21 Apr 2012

Quince Paste - An Autumn Ritual

Quinces hitting the markets are a signpost for me, a season changing symbol. Every year I buy a batch and pile them on a platter to admire for while, most years I find the time to turn them into thick, deep purple quince paste squares. As I write this a batch is bubbling away, lava-like in my kitchen filling the house with it's gorgeous autumn scent.
My recipe and process is based on "George's Quince Paste" in "The Cooks Companion" by Stephanie Alexander. It is a very slow process. You need a day like today - torrential rain, school holidays, no car, no where to be.

4 large quinces, peeled
1 cup water
juice of 1/2 a lemon
sugar (The quantity depends on the weight of puree you end up with. In my case it was 1.18kg sugar)

The first step is to hack them apart (I always forget how tough they are) into chunks. Keep the core and pips of one of the 4 to add to the mix for the pectin which allows it to set.
Next I cooked them in a little water and lemon juice until they were just tender (about 25 min) in a non-reactive pan with a tight fitting lid.
Then they pass through a mouli (or in my case the Oscar juicer/food mill) to make a thick puree.

Now, a little maths - weigh the puree and add 3/4 of it's weight in sugar. I came a little unstuck here - our just-back-from-holiday pantry was pretty bare - so I used all the sugars in the house - white, brown and icing to make up the 1.18kg I needed.

Next put the stirred puree and sugar on a very low heat for 3-4 hours (mine took 4) until you have a thick paste. You need to stir now and then through this process (Be careful because it bubbles a lot and can spit). A Silicon spoon is good here as it scrapes any down from the edges each stir.

Pour the mix into a shallow tray lined with baking paper, and leave to dry for a few days. The recipe suggests in  gas oven with the pilot light on - but as I don't have one I'll just leave it in a sunny spot. The recipe also mentions someone who used to leave it on the back shelf of their car under the rear window and drive around with it for a week or so and it dried well, but I imagine it would hurt if you stopped in a hurry so I just stick with the sunny spot in the kitchen idea. (I hope for some sun tomorrow!!)
When it's dry, cut into squares, wrap in greaseproof paper and foil and then keep it in an airtight tin indefinitely.
I usually serve it with soft cheeses like brie. The original recipe suggests it goes especially well with sheep's milk cheeses I'll try that with this batch and let you know!

As yet there has been NO sun and the paste hasn't had a chance to dry so I thought I'd post as is. I'll update when it dries and I get to cut it and eat it with cheese!!

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