Quinces are an easily-grown fruit that’s often ignored in modern diets. Not many people know how to properly prepare them, and they can seem a bit fiddly and slow to cook compared to other fruits.
I think it’s definitely worth learning to prepare and cook quince – they are like no other fruit, and there’s something deeply warming about the way they taste on a cold autumn day.
My favourite way to cook them is to slowly simmer them in a spiced syrup. I make a large batch, we either eat them over the course of a few days, or water bath can them to store for later.
I also enjoy making quince jam – delicious on top of toast, porridge, and rice pudding. I’ll also share the recipe for this here.
How to find quinces
If you live anywhere where apples and pears grow, you can probably find quinces. They are part of the pome fruit family, related to apples and pears. Dwarf pear trees for home gardens are actually grafted onto quince rootstock, as they are so closely related.
Quinces are ready for a brief season in mid to late autumn. There are several different varieties, and they’re usually ripe in the second and third months of autumn. Ripe quinces have yellow skin and pale flesh, which turns red or pink when cooked.
Quince can be hard to find in shops. Look for roadside fruit stands, and buckets out the front of houses with fruit trees.
How to prepare quince
Get a very big bowl or pot and put 4 litres (1 gallon) of water in it, along with 2 tablespoons cider vinegar and a teaspoon of salt. This acid water will help prevent the quinces from browning while you’re cutting up more of them.
Peel each quince and put in the acid water. Once they’re all peeled, cut the top off each one, then cut each one in half, and then in half again, to form four wedges.
Now it’s time to remove the cores. Begin by using the knife right at the edge of the quince quarter, starting at the top, where the stem was. As you work your way downwards, allow the knife to follow the grain of the quince, so that you’re skimming along as close to the gritty and tough core as possible – this is something that is picked up over time. If you get a bit of gritty core in with the quinces, it’s not the end of the world, if you skim off too much, then that’s just some extra scraps for the goats and not for you.
After coring, put the quince pieces back in the acid water again and leave them until you’re ready to cook. Peel and core the rest of the quinces and add them back to the acid water too.
How to cook quince in spiced syrup
In a 5 litre (5 quart) pot, prepare a syrup for poaching with 2 1/2 litres (10 cups) water, 800g coconut sugar (4 1/2 cups) or honey (2 1/3 cups), and some optional spices – I like to add 10 smashed cardamon pods, 1 cinnamon stick, and 2 star anise. Bring to a simmer on the stove and keep warm. These quantities will give enough syrup to cook between 4 and 5 kilograms (9 to 11 pounds) of quince.
Once all the quince is prepared, put them in the hot poaching liquid, adding more water and honey if it needs it. Quinces shrink a little while they’re poaching, so it’s fine to have them fit quite snugly together, but there should still be some extra syrup at first, and any extra can be used for poaching another batch of quinces, or making baked syrup dumplings, so it’s better to have too much syrup rather than not enough.
Gently simmer over a medium-low heat for at least forty minutes, or up to a few hours if the heat is low enough. Quinces are best when they’re cooked slowly. I prefer to cook mine in the oven, as it’s a more gentle all-over heat, rather than the harsh heat that sometimes happens on top of my stove, but you can cook on a stovetop too if you keep the heat very low.
When cooked, the quinces will be soft, and will have changed colour. They can fall apart quite easily, so handle them gently.
Now you have a big pot full of cooked quince, ready to serve as a dessert, or add to cakes and pies. Quince in syrup can keep in the larder with the lid on for around a week, or you can put the quinces and syrup into preserving jars, seal in the usual way, and process in a boiling water bath for 40 minutes.
How to make quince jam
Quince makes a delicious jam, perfect with porridge, rice pudding, scones, pancakes, or toast.
2kg (5 pounds) quinces
1 litre (quart) to 1.5 litres (1.5 quarts) water
1.2kg (2.6 pounds) honey
Prepare quinces in the usual way by following the instructions above. Cut into very small pieces (or use a grater).
Heat 1 litre (1 quart) water in a large heavy-bottomed pot until boiling. Add the quince and stir.
Cook until the quince is very soft and can easily be mashed with a wooden spoon. As the quince cooks, it should fluff up a little and absorb water, so add water, a small amount at a time if it is needed, to form a thick sauce, keeping in mind that the honey will water it down further.
Put your jam in jars in the usual way, Australian hot jar/hot lid/upside down works for this if this is what you normally use, or can in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
How to store quince
Quince can be stored for two or three months by selecting the very best, unbruised, undamaged quinces and placing them in layers in a 5 gallon bucket, with each quince surrounded by dry autumn leaves. Store in a cool place, such as an unheated room, a root cellar, or outdoors in the shade.
Quince jam and bottled quinces in spiced syrup will store for one year in a cool, dry place.