She pulled down the branches and I twisted them from their stalks, one two three too many to hold. I dropped some into the unruly grass. When the tree was bare we came back to the kitchen with our haul and put a couple of the hefty quinces and some sugar in the pressure cooker, to test.
Then immediately forgot about them.
We had made quince mush; they had totally disintegrated. Lovely. My mother set about resurrecting it, and I started on a tart. (It was an incredibly nice moment, stepping around each other in the kitchen as we made dinner together. Not dictated by time or recipes, free to use the fresh ingredients we had picked from the garden and, uh, supermarket.)
The mush turned out beautifully in the end: mixed with almost equal quantities of jam sugar and boiled for barely five minutes, it became a stiff jam with a faint scent of citrus besides that particular quince taste. We filled three jars (fresh from the dishwasher, no need to sterilise) and turned them upside down to seal. Delicious both on toast or porridge in the morning, and with cheese in the evening like the Spanish membrillo.
The tart too was better than expected: since we sliced the quinces thinly and popped them straight into boiling sugar and water, they were poached in under five minutes. Then, a circle of puff pastry, ready rolled, and a smaller circle of marzipan on top. The quinces arranged in a delicate spiral into the centre, each slice overlapping slightly, covering the marzipan and leaving a border of pastry to puff up in the oven.
And that was it, simple. Except that in the course of baking, the plain quince pieces blushed pink, ranging from a golden rose to a autumn orange. The very edges charred black, turned up like the dry leaves carpeting the lawn. It was beautiful, more so when brushed shiny with the leftover poaching syrup.
If my mother hadn’t been there, I probably wouldn’t have attempted a quince dessert – too much hassle, I thought. As it was, it was both easy and delicious: the fruit tender and perfumed, the pastry crisp, the marzipan just a thin layer of sticky sweetness to bind it all together.
Obviously, I could have made it with apples (no need to poach first) just as you could make rabbit stew or jugged hare with a chicken breast, but I would have missed out on something special, something seasonal.
Quince and marzipan tarte fine
adapted from an apple tart recipe by Bruno Loubet
2 large quinces (about 800g total)
225g puff pastry, all-butter ready-rolled
Heat the sugar and water in a deep frying pan to a gentle simmer. Peel, core and slice the quinces one at a time and drop the slices in the syrup immediately so they don’t go brown in the air. Throw the cores in as well for extra flavour. After 4-5 minutes they will go tender and a little translucent, fish them out and spread out on some paper towel to drain. Repeat with the rest of the quinces, add more water/sugar if necessary. Save the syrup, discard the cores.
Heat oven to 180C.
Unroll the puff pastry, hopefully already in a circle, onto a large baking sheet lined with baking paper. If not cut the biggest circle possible. Score a smaller circle about 3-4 cm from the edge using a plate as a guide. Roll the marzipan out very thinly to fit this smaller diameter and lay inside the scored mark.
Pat the quinces totally dry with more paper towel, and arrange them on top of the marzipan, not on the border of puff pastry, in overlapping spirals.
Bake for 30 minutes or so, until the pastry has puffed up around the edges and the quinces just start to go brown at the tips. Brush immediately with the leftover poaching syrup.
Serve warm with crème fraîche or vanilla icecream.