What now seems to us to be an unusually shaped slightly ugly 'is-it-a-pear-or-an-apple-?' fruit, quince has in fact a very long beloved history. In this session we are going to take these historical fruits and turn them into a delicious compote to remind us why they were so popular throughout cultures and time. High in vitamin C, pectin and fibre they are perfect to turn into compote, as well as being good for common winter coughs and colds with their high vitamin C content.
Quince are recorded arriving in the UK in 1275 but they may well have arrived before then as they had been long enjoyed in Europe and further afield, notably known to have been cultivated as far back in time as in ancient Babylon. In contrast today they tend to only be found growing in gardens where they've been planted as much for their beautiful blooms or fragrance as much for their golden fruits, and often these too are left to fall, as somewhere along the line quince seems to have suffered a loss in popularity. The raw fruit is bitter and hard, but once cooked it turns a pink-orange in colour and has a deep flavour. The warming colour of the cooked fruit alone makes me think of autumn and warming fires. There are two types of quince plant, the shrub and the tree and both bear edible fruits. To identify the fruit from the tree is more like a large apple/pear, whereas the fruit from the shrub is much smaller and more the size of crab apples. All quince need a sunny spot in order to flourish, and are best picked at the end of a hot summer. Due to this they seem to grow better in the warmer climes of the UK - here in the north they don’t tend to grow very large in the garden and need to be picked before there is a frost meaning that the usual picking time of late September - late October sometimes can’t be reached. Luckily though quince be picked early before the frosts and left to ripen indoors - like ours. Avoid quince with a downy skin on still as it means they are unripe - ripe tend to have a golden yellow and slightly waxy skin.
In terms of foraging they are on odd one to find, mostly they will be in gardens rather than growing wild, but not exclusively, like anything they can seed themselves too. You may also have luck finding them in old victorian era or community parks where many fruiting trees still exist. Our pickings came from the quince shrub that belongs to an elderly neighbour who was grateful to see them to be picked and used rather than fall and rot.
Full details and the recipe below! Whilst using this nature activity to inspire learning, know you are helping you and your family's wellbeing:
1) Get Active - Walking isn't always something that happens in wild places, neighbourhood rounds are super accessible and just as vital for our health. There are still many foraging opportunities to be had there too be it from back yards, front lawns, sides of garages and more. Sometimes it can mean making contact with neighbours or home owners and getting to know the people who live around you in order to be able to gather and forage but in my own experience, when asked politely, people are usually more than happy to see fallen fruits go to use rather than just rot. However of course be understanding if they say no and accept you may have to look elsewhere.
2) Keep Learning - Learn how to identify the different quince varieties first, both the tree and the shrub so that you know what it is you are looking for, the scent is fairly unmistakable though once you learn it and will help in future years. There is a great deal of history surrounding the quince and this too could be used as a gateway to learning about, for example, the Greeks.
3) Be Mindful - Give gratitude to this plant for it's fruit and for it's ability to have survived many changes throughout history and still being able to keep give to us today. Moments of noticing and gratitude for what we have or find, can bring us a deeper sense of connection to our surroundings and ourselves. Try this exercise: Notice this fruit - see how it feels in your hand, notice it's blemishes, its colour, what it looks like and how it smells. Notice the leaves on the branches and consider all the growth it has had to do to produce these fruit.
4) Practice Kindness - remember if you have had them gifted from a neighbour or a home close to you to return the kindness and make a jar of compote for them too.
5) Think Community - Share your tips, where to look for them and outcomes in the comments below. Consider making a jar for your elderly neighbour, your friend or your work colleague to try and spread the love and health that can come from understanding nature.
Approx 1kg of quince fruit
500ml of water 1tbsp of vanilla extract
1 tbsp of lemon juice
optional extras: 1 cinnamon stick, 1 vanilla bean split in half, 5-6 cloves, strip of lemon peel
Recipe: Peel all your quince, core and remove any blemishes on outer skins and, if they are large enough, slice into quarters. If they are smaller offerings (more likely from the shrub) then peel with a peeler and slice the fruit off with a knife leaving the core to discard intact. Place all the quince fruit pieces into a large bowl of water and add half of the lemon juice to it to prevent them going brown. Discard the peel, seeds and any cores to compost. Once peeling is complete, drain the quince through a sieve and then place them in a large pan.
Cover them with your 500ml of water and the remaining lemon juice.
Add your sugar (I added 250g but I like compote quite tart - many prefer is sweeter), vanilla extract and any optional extras - I like to use cinnamon & cloves for a wintery feel but the choice is yours.
Bring to the boil and then cover with a lid and cook on low for about 50mins or until the quince turn soft and a pinkish orange brown. Whilst it cools a little, sterilise the glass jars & lids you intend to use by standing them in boiling water for 5mins. Then carefully pour the hot compote first into a jug (that is easier for you to then pour the compote into jars from rather than straight from a large pan - although this may depend on how much you make). Then pour the hot compote into the sterilised jars, seal whilst hot with the lid. Handle with care and use oven gloves as required! Keep in the fridge for upto 2 weeks. Or to keep for longer freeze in containers and defrost as required. Serve on porridge, pancakes, with cheese and crackers, on-top of a plain yoghurt of choice, or simply enjoy alone with cinnamon. EAT!