Saturday, December 4, 2010

Quince and currant chutney

The quince is a "pome" fruit, related to apples and pears. The fruit is bright yellow, about the size of a softball. The quince, or Cydonia oblonga is native to Caucasus region of southwest Asia, and is the only species in the Cydonia genus.

The fruit was well known to the people who lived in the Balkans, Greece, Turkey and the Eastern Mediterranean, since the beginning of recorded history. The ancient Romans stewed quince with honey. In the Balkans, quinces are distilled into brandy. In Iran and Lebanon, quinces are often added to stews with lamb, or made into jam. In Spain and many Latin American countries, a concentrated paste of quince called membrillo is eaten with sharp Manchego cheese.

The quince may have been the fruit Eve plucked from the Tree of Knowledge. For the ancient Greeks, the quince was associated with Aphrodite, the goddess of fertility and love.

In Greek mythology, the maiden Atalanta, daughter of a king, was a huntress who pledged herself to Artemis, the moon goddess, and vowed to remain a virgin.

Her father had other plans for her. He wanted to marry her off. She agreed only to marry a man who could outrun her in a footrace. None succeeded until a youth named Melanion implored Aphrodite for help. The goddess gave him three golden quince.

As soon as the race began, Atalanta pulled out in front, but Melanion tossed the first golden quince ahead of her on the track. Distracted, she slowed to pick it up. He distracted her twice again with the golden fruit, until he was able to pass her and gain the finish line. She became his wife.

It makes you wonder why something a simple and good as a fruit would distract an ambitious young woman long enough to thwart her from her goal. Since in Greece, quinces are given as gifts at weddings, maybe Atalanta decided Melanion was cute enough to start planning the menu.

I'm not sure I'd blow a footrace for it, but when I saw quinces displayed in my local supermarket, it intrigued me enough to put one in my basket.

The fruit of the quince is hard and astringent, but sweetens and mellows as it ripens or after it is blasted by frost or cooked. Even when hard, the fruit gives off an intense fragrance. As I drove home from the market, my little car filled with the fruity perfume of a single quince.

But what to do with it? Because the holidays are coming up, I made a sweet, spicy, vinegared chutney, adapted from this recipe at

1 quince, peeled, cored, and diced - about 1 1/2 to 2 cups
1/2 - 3/4 cup diced onion (I used a red onion)
1/2 cup currants
3/4 cup apple cider or juice
1/4 cup vinegar (I used red wine vinegar, but you could use apple cider vinegar)
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/8 cup minced fresh ginger root
1 - 2 teaspoons grated orange peel
1 whole star anise
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom - I crushed whole pods in a mortar and pestle
1/2 teaspoon flaked red pepper
pinch salt

Put all the ingredients in a sauce pan, bring to a boil and then reduce to a low simmer for 45 minutes or so.

It filled the kitchen with aroma! When I tasted it at the end, it was a rich, complex spicy relish. Great for the holiday table.

I packed it into a clean jar - if I'd made a larger quantity I might have packed it into sterile jars and processed it in a water bath, but for a small amount, it will do fine kept in the fridge until Christmas dinner.


Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

I made the mistake of trying out quince before doing my homework... the lesson that one should cook it before consumption is one that is never forgotten.

carmilevy said...

You've awakened a powerful memory: I remember my aunt making quince jam when I was really young. I don't remember the taste, but being in her kitchen as she spent the better part of the day making a huge batch was little short of magical.

Thank you for this!

21 Wits said...

Oh yummy! Something I'll have to try....sounds very tasty either way! I have a Holiday Jam waiting for Christmas Eve dinner...isn't it cool that here it is Dec. 4th and we're already preparing for the big dinner!

Anonymous said...

I can almost smell it!

Hamish Mack said...

My MIL makes a Quince jelly that is brilliant, like liquid Turkish Delight.