Quince are full of surprises. During the summer you bask in their exotic blossom and feel aghast when it falls and the trees start to bud and bunion into knobbly almost-pears. The autumnal feeling can get to you and you start to philosophise about youth’s beauty and beauty’s youth and what happens when you reach 37, and it’s all very depressing. And then just as you feel that nature in its haggard old end-of-year state can hold no joy for you, you chance to walk past the quince tree close enough for your nose to pick up a memory of summer and more. The scent of the quince is exquisite – floral and light and almost spicy. You look at the unprepossessing fruit and sniff again. Yes! It’s like catching a farmer’s wife in the fields wearing Chanel No. 5.
The quince from our garden are finished, but today I was walking along Pristina’s chilly main street when I saw a box set out on the pavement, aglow with the fruit for sale. They could have been lightbulbs taken down from a movie star’s dressing room mirror, and in the wintry gloom I desperately wanted to buy one. Even walking along the darkening street with it in my pocket would be like carrying a pomander or a hand-warmer.
It was 20c for one bought from the guy who was filling in time between customers by chewing his way through a raw quince (it made my eyes water to watch. I’m a ‘super-taster’ I gather, and squeamish about bitterness. The uncooked quince is tough as that farmer’s wife’s old working boots, and tart with it).
I knew that I’d stew it with honey, and prepared myself for more surprises. You are always warned of how dangerous it is to cook quinces because of the tendency of quince flesh to spatter as it’s heated. I was told to wear rubber gloves and use a long spoon, as if I were to sup with the devil. In fact I didn’t get spattered this evening and it seemed ridiculous to be kitted out as if I were scared of germ warfare, while the kitchen filled with the gentle fragrance of apple and elderflower.
I peeled, cored and diced the quince and added about one and a quarter times as much honey as quince (this made it on the sweet side; you could economise) and enough water to cover it, just. Then I heated it up together until the quince softened and the liquid reduced. I ate some of it on its own, and mixed the rest with creme fraiche to make a delicious fool.
The recipe for quince jam I learned in Kosovo is in my book, Travels in Blood and Honey; becoming a beekeeper in Kosovo.