The quince tree in my parents’ garden is dying. It is the tree which I learnt to climb as a child, its twisted branches providing an easy ladder to my turret, my crow’s nest, my cockpit, my command post of my kingdom. Over 30 years later when I look at the tree with adult eyes it seems small – I probably was never more than 5 foot from the ground. The fork in the branches where I used to sit; and lower a bucket for treats, seems too little for me to have squeezed into.
The leaves of the tree were once healthy, green, covered with silvery hairs – a sparse fur. In the autumn it dripped with quinces, yellow and fragrant. The fruits are not that pretty, slightly misshapen and bulbous, the ugly cousin of the pear. Once cooked they transform, think of the most perfumed floral pear with notes of honey, the pale flesh turns a deep orange pink. With their fragrance and concentrated flavour a little quince goes a long way.
In Slavonia, in Eastern Croatia, they plant a quince tree when a baby is born. Guaranteeing a supply of this exquisite fruit for a new child is a thoughtful and charming custom.
“they dined on mince and slices of quince…”
The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear (1871)
The tree always produced huge quantities of fruit, our quinces were in demand throughout the village – every autumn my mother would receive orders for bags of fruit. She would cook with them and jam and jelly the remainder. Sadly for the last few years the amount of fruit has declined, and this year there were no quinces and living in the city – shopping in the market and at supermarkets – I no longer have a source.
Step in Atkins and Potts who make a range of sauces, condiments, chutneys, pastes, marinades etc who sent me a bottle of their quince syrup. It is a pretty golden colour, thick and gently flavoured with quince. I can think of lots of ways of using it, but my first call was in a crumble. If you do not have the luxury of your own or friends with a tree and there are no quinces for sale near you then it certainly is worth a look.
Ever since taking part in the Sunvil Supper Club earlier in the summer I have been making my crumble the Swedish, smulpaj, way – where you stir melted butter into flour and sugar, rather than the British way of rubbing in solid butter. I find it far quicker and less messy. I now keep a bag of crumble mix in the freezer, grab it and use from frozen for a super speedy pudding.
Recipe: Apple & Quince (Syrup) Crumble
Serves 4 – with spare crumble mix for the freezer
Adapted from Sunvil
100g plain flour
75g soft light brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
50g butter – melted
4 large dessert apples – peeled, cored and sliced
1 tbs quince syrup (maple syrup would work well in its place)
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F / GM.
Arrange the apple slices in a pie or gratin dish and drizzle the quince syrup over.
Mix the flour, sugar and baking powder in a bowl, pour the melted butter over, stir until the mixture gathers into crumbs.
Scatter over the apple, and bake for about 20 minutes.
Serve with cream.
Many thanks to Atkins & Potts. They also have a new gluten free sauce range – we tried the stroganoff – which was very good indeed and worth keeping on hand if you have any gluten free friends.