Quinces are funny fruit. They are apple meets pear – squatty, tough, and with a dusting of soft fuzz that can be rubbed off by the push of your thumb.
Before this winter, I had never had quince before. Maybe I have never noticed them at the market. Maybe they have been there all along. Maybe they are making a new appearance due to the new knitting of Middle Eastern flavors and tastes into our current fancy food trends. If quinces mean more excuses to use sumac, dollops of fatty greek yogurt, and eloquently roll the name Ottolenghi of my tongue – I am wholeheartedly on board.
These quinces sat in my fridge for about a month before I used them. I assume it is because of their shear density that they do not seem to ever want to whither away in the produce bin. I had originally intended to core them and stuff them generously with lamb. But, as many food plans go, I found another way to use lamb and so the quinces sat. And sat.
Then I happened upon this recipe.
I go through phases of very mundane cooking habits. I roast some carrots, I cook some grains, I make some toast. I call it a meal. I fall into the habit of cooking simply, and it works. But I do very much enjoy cooking projects. Standing by the stove all day – simmering this and stirring that. Steaming up the windows and drying dishes with worn tea towels. Indeed, it truly is romantic.
Time passing is inevitable and slightly concerning. Yet I find more meaning and appreciation in the time I do actually spend cooking and not just throwing together a roasted toasted pish-posh of a dinner. Despite its common inevitability to turn out delicious.
Spending the time to practice what you enjoy – to practice what makes you happy – is invaluable. For those of us who love to cook – it is the time we spend cooking that goes unparalleled.
I will gently and willingly labor myself at the end of a wooden spoon or at the smooth handle of a chef knife. My palms sing when they slap dough across floured countertops, and when they gingerly rub rolling pins. I naturally leave no space between myself and the counter, or the warm stove top. I feel close. The time goes. And I know I am exactly where I want to be.
CARDAMOM SPICED QUINCE BUTTER
adapted from this recipe on food52
This recipe is not “quick and easy” – shortcuts won’t work. The process is long, the ingredient list is short, and the finished butter is simply luxurious.
Makes about 4 cups
2 large oranges
1 large vanilla bean
6 cardamom pods, gently crushed
3/4 cup sugar, plus more to taste
1 3/4 to 2 lbs quince
- Wash oranges well. Peel the skin into thin strips of peel (avoiding the white pith) from half of one of the oranges. Place the peels in a large square of cheesecloth or a large cloth tea infuser. Using a microplane, remove the zest from the other orange onto a cutting board. Finely mince and set aside. Cut the vanilla bean(s) in half and scrape out the seeds. Set the seeds aside with the minced orange zest. Place the empty bean(s) into a 3.5 to 4 quart wide sauce/stock pot.
- Juice the oranges into a quart measuring cup, then add water to a combined volume of 4 cups. Add the juice and water (strained if there were any seeds) along with 3/4 cup of sugar to the pot with the vanilla bean. Give it a stir, then cover and bring to a simmer over medium heat.
- Wash the quince well. Quarter, peel, and core them. Add the quince peels to the orange peels in the cheesecloth, and discard the cores. I find it easiest to use a melon baller to remove the stem and blossom ends, then a sharp knife to quarter the fruit. I then use the melon baller to scoop out the core, being careful to not cut myself and to get all the white core bits out. The core will never get soft, and the melon baller is surprisingly sharp. Don’t worry if you don’t get 100% of the peel removed from the nooks and crannies of the fruit.
- Add the quince quarters to the pot. Use some kitchen twine to tie the cheesecloth containing the peels into a sachet. Add it to the pot. Add the cardamom pods. If needed add extra water to the pot so the quince is mostly covered.
- Reduce heat to medium-low and allow the quince to cook until it is quite soft, stirring occasionally. The quince should break apart with stirring and should just be starting to turn pinkish, 60 to 90 minutes. Remove the sachet and set it into the quart measure or a small bowl.
- Place a mesh strainer over a large bowl. Carefully pour the quince and liquid through the strainer. Allow the mixture to drain, undisturbed for at least 30 minutes. Transfer the strained quince to a food processor with the blade attachment, removing the vanilla bean and the cardamom pods as you go. Purée until smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl once or twice, 60 to 90 seconds. Now is a good time to put a few small plates into the freezer for testing the butter later.
- Transfer the strained liquid back into the pot. Squeeze the liquid from the peel sachet and add it along with any liquid that drained into the measuring cup back into the pot.
- Cook the syrup on high until it has reduced by more than half, become a gorgeous translucent salmon color, and takes a half second or so to “heal” when a wooden spoon is scraped across the bottom of the pan. At first the mixture will boil vigorously and not need much babysitting. As the water evaporates and the mixture starts to thicken, the bubbles will get larger and the boiling will seem less intense. Turn the heat down to medium-high at this point, stir the mixture frequently, and babysit it closely as the sugar syrup can burn. A small amount of browning on the bottom will be okay, but burning will ruin the batch.
- Remove the syrup from the heat, and add the puréed quince back in. Stir together to thoroughly combine. The butter will be a lovely apricot color. The mixture should be thick enough that your spoon will leave traces. If for some reason it is not, return the mixture to medium-low heat and cook, scraping bottom frequently until it is thick enough. If you put a spoonful onto a cold plate, no water should weep from the perimeter.
- Taste the quince butter, and add sugar a tablespoon at a time if needed to get your ideal sweet-tart balance. Make sure to stir well so the sugar gets fully dissolved. Stir in the orange zest and vanilla seeds. Transfer to an airtight container or canning jars (process as for jam). Keeps refrigerated for a month or more.