The golden globes of April
Every season has its delicious fruit, and in April it is the turn for quinces. It’s not immediately obvious that these fruits are delicious, since they stay hard when ripe, and can not be eaten raw.
But when stewed they go well with breakfast cereal, and can be used in any other way you would use cooked apples. You can bake them like apples too, roast them, or (my favourite) cook them in red wine flavoured with a cinnamon stick and a couple of whole cloves (and sugar to taste). They also make one of the best jellies. The recipe I use includes a tablespoon of coriander seeds added to the fruit when it is boiled to soften it, which adds a subtle extra touch of flavour to the preserve. Jellies are easy to make, but the most popular commercial recipe for quinces – quince paste – requires a lot more work, stirring a spitting mix of hot quince and sugar until it cooks down to a thick paste that can be cut into squares when cold and dry. It is very nice as an accompaniment to strong cheese, or added to cakes or muffins.
Even if quinces weren’t (with a bit of effort) good to eat, I think I would still grow them for their beauty as trees. Their flowers are like large apple blossoms, a very delicate pink and white, and they have a sweet scent. When the tree is covered with ripening fruit it looks – and smells – great. If you leave slightly green quinces on a sunny windowsill to ripen they will perfume the room. Fallen ripe fruit is a treat for the birds – I stand on them to break them open so the birds can enjoy them more easily. Finally, when the fruit is gone the big leaves turn yellow before they fall. My top pick for a tree which is both ornamental and useful.