The aromatic, bright yellow fruits caught my eye. There they were bulging against the brown paper bag in which they were housed, as if in protest. As I cradled them in my one spare arm, (the other was carrying a rather weighty child), I promised them that I would indeed give them the display that their opulent nature deserved when we returned home.
Featuring in many prominent works of art, including Vincent Can Gogh's "still life with quinces" (which by the way is experienced on a whole new level at the immersive sensory experience that is The Lume, Melbourne). As well as many poems which capture the ancient myths, love stories and symbols for which this voluptuous fruit has become famous.
But what of its culinary triumphs? A fruit, that when in its raw state is practically inedible turns into a striking shade of rich, ruby-red reminiscent of Royal jewels upon long and leisurely cooking. They can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes alike - moreish spiced slow-cooked lamb shanks. Tossed through a winter salad with a scattering of crumbled blue cheese. Encased in a golden, flaky pastry, or simply spooned over a steaming bowl of porridge to break the fast.
It is said that when a baby is born in the Balkans, a quince tree is planted. Symbolising fertility, love and life. I have visions of 100-year-old quince forests, their old-world branches laden with bright yellow fruits as the children of the parents who planted them walk side by side with their own children, perhaps even their children's children. It's all rather romantic, isn't it? But isn't that what the quince asks of us? To marvel in its beauty, its mystique and its ability to transform. It reminds us of what can come to fruition when time is unhurried. When we simply slow down and enjoy life's long and leisurely moments.
5 large quinces, peeled, cored and quartered
440g caster sugar
a few fine peelings from the skin of an orange
juice of a large orange
1/2 cup water
2 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
a heaped tablespoon of honey
Preheat your oven to 140c (fan-forced) and line a large, deep baking tray with a sheet of baking paper. set aside.
Peel and cut each of the quinces into quarters. I find the easiest way to do this is to cut around the core, so then you are left with four "cheeks" you can either leave them this way or if they are quite large then cut each cheek in half. Place the cut quinces, along with the cores into the baking tray. Don't be alarmed when they start to discolour as this will have no effect on the final outcome.
Place the sugar, orange peel, juice, water, star anise, cinnamon and honey in a medium saucepan over medium heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat slightly to a gentle boil. continue to bubble away for at least 4 minutes.
Pour the sugar syrup over the quinces, mixing to combine, then cover tightly with a sheet, or a couple of sheets of foil and place into the oven for 3 1/2 hours. After this time, turn off your oven and allow them to rest in the oven until completely cool. I started mine in the afternoon so left them in the oven overnight, hence the title of this recipe.
The following morning, spoon the quinces, star anise, cinnamon stick and orange peels into a large jar, discarding the cores. Pour the river of glistening syrup over the top and store it in the fridge where they will happily sit for as long as it takes you to work your way through them. A few of mine are destined for a spiced cake that I have in mind...