In late September/early October, the first quince fruits begin to ripen on our gnarled tree at Petersham, taking on a beautiful, pale, limey-yellow complexion.
Raw, they are bitter, but have the most wonderful fragrance – somewhere between ripe apples and pears, yet much more complex. A bowl full of quinces will perfume an entire room. But it is when cooked – slowly, gently – that their real character shines through, transforming them into the most beautifully burnt-coloured amber jewels.
Quinces grow abundantly throughout Europe, most notably in Turkey and Morocco. Choose fragrant, organically grown quinces that have a clear, firm complexion and are free of bruises or discolouration. To prepare the fruit for cooking, rinse under cold water, dry with a towel, rubbing firmly to remove the fuzz. Do not bother to peel or core them, as the colour and flavour is only improved by using them intact.
Sadly, quinces' stay with us is brief, not lingering for more than a couple of months – so enjoy them while they're here.
Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627, petershamnurseries.com
Roasted quinces with verjuice and plums
2 fresh bay leaves
The peel of one unwaxed lemon
1 vanilla pod, split in half lengthwise
120ml/4oz verjuice or water
1 tbsp crème fraîche
Heat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas2. Rinse and wipe the quinces clean. Quarter them lengthways but don't bother to remove the pith or core. Put the quarters (cut side up) in a baking tray, sprinkle over the sugar, the bay leaves, lemon peel and vanilla, and add the verjuice. Cover lightly with foil and bake for two-and-a-half hours, turning the fruit a couple of times. While they are cooking, rinse the plums, discarding any bruised or blemished fruit. About 20 minutes before the quinces are ready, add the plums to the baking tray spooning over the syrup. When the quinces are soft, sticky and a beautiful burnt-orange colour, they are ready.
I like to serve these still warm, with a large dollop of good-quality crème fraîche.
Chocolate mousse with roasted quinces
330g/11oz good-quality dark chocolate (min 64 per cent cocoa solids), in pieces
8 eggs, separated
100g/31/2oz caster sugar
Pinch of sea salt
Prepare the quinces as per the first recipe. Melt the chocolate slowly in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water, then remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly. Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks and half the sugar together in a bowl until pale and thick. Slowly incorporate the melted chocolate.
In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites with the salt until soft peaks form, then gradually whisk in the remaining sugar. Carefully fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture, a third at a time, until evenly combined. Pour into a large bowl, cover and place in the fridge to set.
To serve, spoon the chocolate mousse on to plates and serve with the roasted quinces.
8 roasted quinces
120g/4oz plain flour
2 tbsp muscovado sugar
120g/4oz unsalted butter, cold
Roast the quinces as per the first recipe, then turn up the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4. Once ready, roughly chop the quinces and spoon into an ovenproof dish.
In a separate bowl, sieve the flour and add the sugar; stir together with your fingers to combine. Cut the butter into little cubes, add to the flour-sugar mixture and crumble between your fingers until it is the texture of sand. If you have a few lumps left in the mixture, all the better.
Sprinkle the mix over the quinces and place on the middle shelf of the oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the top is golden-brown.