Quince cheese and sneezes

I didn’t really feel like stirring a huge pot of quinces until reduced to a ‘fragrant rich garnet-coloured  paste’ for hours on a Friday night, but I had unwittingly  spent a good £4 buying the damn things from Mrs. Fish the week before, on a whim, and time was running out.

Mrs. Fish (not her real name – I have no idea what her real name actually is) runs a fishmongers serving my many Portuguese neighbours with Mackerel, Clams,  Sea Bass and other  species of the piscine variety that I cannot identify because I can’t be bothered to learn the Portuguese names for them and dear old Mrs. Fish hasn’t bothered to learn the English ones! Why did I buy quinces from a fishmongers? Well, it’s a fishmongers with added extras – the added extras being fruit and veg.

Although beyond my meagre weekly budget, my curiosity got the better of me and I didn’t have the courage to halt my purchase once she has placed my 5 quinces on the scales and rung up the till for £4,36.  So I paid up and walked home pondering that I could easily have spent my precious £4.36 on nice cheese, or meat. Or fish for that matter.

Anyhow, I duly quartered and simmered them in water for an hour or so, planning to turn them into quince paste – or Membrillo, if you have Iberian inclinations – the following day. My immune system, however, had other ideas. The next day I awoke to discover that my own bodily temple had been overrun by some hideous germ festival. This uncharacteristic bout of influenza was no doubt contracted by contamination on one of my rare outings using London’s public transport system.

Fast forward a week later, and I was finally ready to leave my convalescence.  I hoped that my quinces had not acquired a ‘germ festival’ of their own, and deteriorated beyond usefulness.

But all was well.  They were not festering in the larder.

cooked quinces

After draining the cooking liqour, reducing it to about 125 ml (from at least 800ml), getting rid of all the non-edible bits (core, pips, etc) and mashing the quinces through a sieve I was already rather tired. But young was the night and I’d only just begun. The recipe simply stated that I should embark on a two stage method of cooking the paste on a low heat whilst ‘stirring occasionally’ and then ‘stirrring constantly’ until the desired  consistency was reached, but did not specify how long this process would take.

quince paste, with cooking liquor reducing in the background

I ‘sputtered’ my quinces for about 2 hours on a low heat. Then I got impatient and upped the heat, poured two jars of quince butter, then poured them back in again as I discerned they hadn’t quite gelled enough,  then continued to stir and stir. And so I it went on, deep into the night. Lord knows how much this exercise influenced the gas bill. So much for budget eating!

It wasn’t difficult, just tiring and potentially boring if it were not for my childish imagination, coupled with the fantastic hissing, plopping and farting noises produced by my boiling cauldron of red sugary lava. Unfortunately these actions could not be captured on film, but look how reduced it is compared to the picture above!

almost ready

It must have been 3 hours or more in total, I forget, but towards the end, I realised why I had soldiered on, because lo and behold, the paste did indeed start coming away from the edge of the pan, just as the recipe had promised. Maybe I had the heat on too low, but at least it didn’t catch and burn.

The excitement and satisfaction I felt as I poured the paste into the tray and inhaled the fragrant steam really reminded why I love cooking so much. I’m sure no adventure sport could give me such a thrill. Which is a good thing, because my poor old battered knee only just about survived the 3 hours I was required to stand and stir, never mind a run down a snowy slope!

poured and set

Finally, after drying it out for a couple of days I stored my Membrillo for future use, but not before tucking in to a slice of it with oatcakes and cheese.

fruits of labour

If you feel inspired to give it a go, the recipe can be found here.

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