The quince is a strange fruit – deliciously fragrant, but hard, woody and pale in it’s raw state, transforming to a deep, glowing amber when cooked. I don’t know about it’s availability in other parts of Australia, but in Adelaide, quinces usually find their way into kitchens after being plucked from a old tree in a backyard, and gifted by the owner, who doesn’t have the time (or inclination) to prepare them all.
In inner city suburban Adelaide, there are still quite a few house blocks remaining that, in days gone by, were turned into quarter-acre food forests by the newly arrived Greek and Italian families. They brought their gardening knowledge and vibrant food culture along with them, and planted fruit trees and veggie patches to feed their families with soul-nourishing from dishes from the old country. The veggie patches may be gone, but in many gardens quince, citrus, stone-fruit and nut trees still stand, and gnarled grape vines trail over the rusty, corrugated-iron fences that line the back lane-ways. And in the old Hills gardens, where space was rarely an issue, almost every garden had fruit trees to bring their bounty to the land-owners.
Quince is perfect for preserving for later. Making quince paste is a delicious way to share the quince bounty throughout the colder months, accompanying a ripe cheese and a good local red. Quince jelly is another favourite – silky smooth and ruby red – and for many, a reminder of something grandma would make. But today, the recipe I’m sharing, loosely based on one by Stephanie Alexander, is for Slow-Roasted Vanilla Quinces, which are delightfully tangy and fragrant. Ways to serve them are endless – simply with greek yoghurt or egg custard, on top of porridge for a warming breakfast, or add them to tarts and crumbles. They freeze well, so making a big batch, portioning, then freezing is a good idea if you are lucky enough to have some quinces come your way.
Slow-Roasted Vanilla Quinces
80 g butter
150 g caster sugar
Juice of 2 lemons
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
Pre-heat the oven to 160°C. Melt the butter, and place into a large baking dish.
Peel, core and quarter the quinces, rolling each quarter in the butter as you go, and placing in the dish.
When all the quince quarters are laid in the baking dish, sprinkle the sugar over them, followed by the lemon juice. Tuck the vanilla bean halves between the quinces. Cover the dish with foil and pop into the oven.
Roast for around two hours, turning the quinces occasionally to coat them in the syrup and distribute the vanilla bean seeds throughout.
They are ready when they are tender, glossy and a deep amber colour.