Quince charming: Mark Hix celebrates this under-appreciated fruit

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We don't really grow quince in this country on a commercial scale, so it's always nice to get a call from friends who have quince trees and want to see the fruit go to a good home.

The quince is rather an odd relative of the pear and most of the world's produce is grown in Turkey, which is why you will often see the first quince of the season in Turkish shops.

However, like the fig, there are many quince trees that have been introduced around the UK over the years, and judging by the amount of produce I've received from my friends, they seem to have pretty healthy crops.

Quince and cinnamon tart

Serves 4

Use good-quality butter puff pastry for these tarts – either homemade or ready rolled.

4 quinces, peeled, quartered, with the core cut out
150g sugar
1 stick of cinnamon
Juice of 1 lemon
150-200g puff pastry, rolled to about
one-third of a cm thick

Put the quinces in a saucepan with the sugar, cinnamon and lemon juice. Cover well with water, bring to the boil and simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until they are soft and tender. You may need to top up the water during cooking.

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 5. Drain the quinces over a bowl into a colander, then return the liquid to a pan and simmer until it's reduced to a syrupy consistency and thickened. Break up the cinnamon sticks into pieces and add to the syrup.

Slice the quinces, leaving them more or less in the shape of the fruit, then cut the pastry into roughly the shape of the quince, allowing about 1cm of pastry all the way around. Place the pastry on a baking tray and carefully lay the quince on top. Brush the quince with a little syrup and bake for about 30 minutes or until the pastry is coloured around the edges and cooked. To serve, transfer to warmed serving plates and spoon more syrup on top. Serve with thick cream or ice-cream.

Wild duck and quince salad

Serves 4

Cook the quince in the same way as for the tart recipe above; you could add cloves or even peppercorns to add a savoury kick.

1 wild duck
A couple of knobs of butter, softened
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 quinces, cooked as for the tart recipe
A couple of handfuls of small tasty salad leaves

For the dressing

1tbsp good quality red wine vinegar
1tsp Dijon mustard
2tbsp vegetable or corn oil
2tbsp olive oil

Preheat the oven to 220C/gas mark 7. Season the duck and rub the breasts with the butter. Roast for 20-30 minutes, keeping the breasts nice and pink, then remove from the oven and leave to rest for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, halve and slice the quinces. Whisk all of the ingredients together for the dressing and season.

Remove the legs from the duck, remove all of the meat and shred it. Remove the breasts and cut each into 8 slices.

To serve, toss the leaves, quince and shredded leg meat with the dressing and lightly season and arrange on cold serving plates, then arrange the sliced breast on top.

Honey roast bacon with quince

Serves 4

A joint of bacon makes a great cold cut as a starter, especially with a fruit like quince.

A 1kg piece of back bacon, rind removed
2-3tbsp clear honey
10-12 cloves
2 quinces cooked as in the recipe above

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 5. Score the fat of the bacon; insert the cloves. Line a roasting dish with foil, place the bacon on the foil; spoon the honey over. Roast in the oven for about an hour, basting every so often and adding a little water if the honey is burning. Remove from the oven; cool. Halve the quinces, cut into slices and shred the slices into strips. Slice the bacon on serving plates; arrange the quince on top.

Quince Prince

Makes a litre of quince gin

I named this cocktail after the Princes – as in the food writer Rose and her husband Dominic who brought me some fruit. This infusion lasts well and can be used for all sorts of drinks. I've used the poaching liquor from the cooked quinces in the recipes above as the sweetener here.

500g quinces, coarsely grated
1ltr gin
25g sugar

Mix the quince, gin and sugar together; store in an airtight container for 3-4 weeks. Strain through a fine sieve and store in airtight bottles until required. To make the cocktail for two, use 150ml of the quince gin mixed with 150ml quince cooking liquor, the juice of 1 lemon and an egg white. Shake this in a cocktail shaker with ice; pour into suitable serving glasses.

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