I admit I’m somewhat addicted to the concept of quinces, even if they are bastards to peel and the jams and jellies don’t always live up to their promise. It reminds me of childhood – we had a quince tree in the back yard which offered pretty pink flowers in spring and rock hard yellow fruit in fall. But they are hard to find over here, and the season is so short that I buy them when I see them, and work out what to do afterward.
This year’s I managed to snag a series of quinces from four different shopping ventures, but of course I had no clue what to cook. I made quince chutney a couple of years ago, so wanted to try something sweet this year. Quince jelly was the event of the moment, although it was amber rather than deep, deep red, possibly because I didn’t boil the quinces for the length of time suggested in one of several internet recipes. It’s sweet rather than quince-like too. Almost too subtle.
Next up was poached quinces, and I admit it took me three attempts to get this one right. My first recipe said to pressure-cook the quinces for 30 minutes, which turned the yellow-beige fruit into a glorious shade of garnet red. But it also removed even the faintest hint of bite, which wasn’t really what was ordered. The taste was good — I threw in a generous couple of tablespoons of grated ginger for bite and the last couple of inches of a bottle of white wine. Texture sort of blah. Nothing like the pale pink chunky, grainy things my mother used to make.
From there I moved on to try a notch harder to recreate her sweet-sour taste, although I used the pressure cook method (for 20 minutes). I added a cup of white vinegar to the poaching liquid and threw in five-spice for flavor and (too little) chilli powder for heat. But I should have upped the sugar to offset the vinegar, and used (milder) cider vinegar rather than white vinegar. It’s pleasant, and it’s working with the farro too, but it isn’t quite so nice.
Third attempt was the charm, simmered on the stove for about two hours until soft but not soggy. What it lacks in dark pinkness, it makes up for with taste.
Poached quince with vanilla and cider vinegar
6 quinces, peeled (with a potato peeler), cored and sliced into wedges
1 vanilla bean, split down the middle to remove the seeds
1 cup cider vinegar
Use a sharp knife and plenty of patience to chop the quince, and weigh the chopped up fruit to work out how much sugar to use. I had just over a kilo of fruit, so I used 150 grams of sugar. (Counting in metric makes it far easier to work out the percentages)
Add vinegar and sugar to a saucepan, and heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Then add the quince, the vanilla (seeds and pod) and water to almost cover.
Bring up to a simmer and simmer until the fruit is soft. The longer you cook it the pinker it gets, but also the mushier.
It’s glorious, served with farro, my breakfast of the moment.
As for the farro, I flirted with it earlier this year, and then forgot about it. But I’ve cooked up four batches so far this fall, two with varying amounts of coconut milk, one with three parts water to one of milk and one of milk and water in equal parts, and (mixed with the quince). It’s a wonderful start to the day.
1 cup farro (a wheat like grain that’s supposed to be high in protein)
4 cups liquid (all water, or water and coconut milk, or water and milk)
A little salt
If I remember I soak this overnight (or longer) before I start cooking it, and then I boil this up 2 or three times, allowing it to simmer for a few minutes before switching off the stove and putting a lid on the pan to keep the heat in. It’s cooked once the moisture is mostly absorbed and the grains have cracked — you can’t really overcook this one. Store in the fridge in a closed container and use as needed. A cup of cooked-up farro seems to do 5-6 portions of breakfast, depending on how hungry I feel when I wake up.
I’m serving this one with a generous portion of poached quinces, or stewed fruit (or maybe jam), microwaved for a minute or two to heat it up. The addition of a splash of milk, cream or buttermilk is optional but rather nice. Bananas go well with it too.
Enjoy the fact that you won’t be hungry until almost lunchtime.
Edit: to speed up the cooking time, you can presoak the grain and then whiz them up in the food processor for a few seconds to crack them a little, before you start the boiling/cooling process. They still take a while to cook, but they become a little bit more like porridge and a little bit less like grain. It’s all a question of taste.