Wednesday, June 23, 2010

On how quince paste melted my runcible spoon*

Quince. Botanical name: cydonia oblonga. Fruiting plant. It is the is the only member of the genus Cydonia. Turns the most fabulous brilliant deep red from its raw creamy-yellow when cooked over a long period. Naturally rich in pectin and tanin. Perfect for jam and jelly and stews.

No one really knows what a runcible spoon is**. Conjecture abounds: possibly it is like a spork, with bowl and prongs, or a splade, with serrated sharp edge and scoop. Or shallow and long handled. Or wooden.

Like the word runcible, quinces are unique. Unlike the word runcible (which is made up) quinces are an ancient fruit, grown since time immemorial, unchanged and unchanging. The Akkadians ate them, as did the Persians, classical Greeks and Romans. Apicius gives recipes for them (baked in honey or stewed with leeks), and Song of Solomon mentions them.

To my mind, this is a runcible spoon, capturing a sense of both runny and dribble, both of which describe the woeful melted plastic that occurs when you FORGET TO REMOVE THE DAMN SPOON WHILST BOILING QUINCE PASTE ON THE STOVE WHICH IS VERY STUPID.

Melted plastic does a grave disservice to any kind of conserve or jam-like substance. Thankfully, I did manage to remove all traces of the spoon from the quince paste, although the spoon itself is unsalvageable and has been consigned to the rubbish bin. Perhaps the wooden spoon would have been a wiser choice.

And still: I continued to persevere with the quince paste. Yes, I am even going to eat the damn stuff. It took me hours and hours to even get to melted-plastic point.*** Not to mention the 1.8kg of beautiful, misshapen, just-ripe quinces that I bought on a whim at the market just because they are in season, and divine-smelling and so terribly old-fashioned and retro and grandma-y and well, cool, in the same way that an original 1950s prom-dress is cool when you just happen to find it in a vintage shop and it fits and is made of silk and is fabulous.

Quinces even smell old-fashioned, a deliciously sweet musky perfume that reminds me of the powder-puffs that classy old ladies use.

Quinces are vintage, and vintage is in.

And quince paste is the quintessential quince recipe. Sweet and floral and tangy served with a cheese platter, or equal tasty as a jam, it is nanna-ish and more-ish. Have it with sherry.

* It is a universal law that whenever anyone ever eats, cooks, smells, looks at, thinks about or in any way is exposed to quince that they must think about the Owl and the Pussycat. This, of course, is because the Owl and the Pussycat ‘dined on mince and pieces of quince’.
** Edward Lear’s poem continues: 'Which they ate with a runcible spoon'. This was one of the many words he invented. Poets are allowed to do that.
*** I may have misunderstood the phrase “
weekend herb blogging” which I now believe means, ‘write about it over the weekend’ not, ‘spend all weekend engaged in cooking it and then melt a spoon in it’. I assume that Cook (almost) Anything at Least Once would encourage my attempt to cook the spoon itself, and Chris at Mele Cotte might focus on the quince and not the spoon as the requisite ‘herb or plant ingredient’.

Quince paste

Quinces. Water. Sugar. Roughly half as much sugar as quince, by weight. I used 1.5 kg quinces (raw) and 800 g sugar.

Rub the quinces to remove any of the dusty fine hairs on the skins. Quarter.

Cook the quinces in water, lid on, for about 45 minutes, until the quinces are softish. Strain, reserving about 1 cup water.

Mash the quince through a china cap. Discard the seeds and skin. (Some recipes suggest peeling and coring, and then adding this to the pan in a muslin sack – I have no muslin, so I discarded that stuff in the straining process, but if you do have a neat muslin sack, you can just discard it and then use a blender to pulp the quince, which is easier).

Weigh. Add an equal weight of sugar.

Return to a saucepan, with reserved liquid.

Simmer for about four hours until thick, goopy, and dark, dark red. Remember to scrape the bottom of the pan regularly, but also remember to remove the spoon from the pot. When thick enough that you can still see the bottom of the saucepan after you pull the spoon through, pour into a greaseproof paper lined tin and bake in an over at 50Âșc overnight to dry out (6-7 hours should do it).

Cool, cut into pieces, wrap in greaseproof paper. Refrigerate. Eat with delicious cheese. Or spiced mince. Or spread on toast or scones. Serve with equally quaint and old-fashioned elderflower cordial.


  1. What a great post! Sorry about the Tragic really!

    I love quince paste and am not sure I ever thought about where the stuff I scooped out of the package came from! Now, I can make my own. Dangerous...

    THanks for participating in WHB!

  2. I love quinces. My mother has a tree; which is sadly dieing and barely produces quinces anymore.

    I wonder if you could make it in a slowcooker with the lid slightly ajar so the steam can get out and it will reduce?

    I had spoon woes when I scraped out the food processor with my favourite silicone spoon and shreded on the blade!