Pâte de Coings, ou Cotignac

Quince Paste

The exquisitely scented quince is an ancient and distinguished fruit, named the apple of Cydonia (still its botanical name) by the Romans after a town on the north coast of Crete; it was once as familiar in southern Europe as the vine. It is striking to see how often the quince appears on the crisply carved sarcophagi found in the ancient burial ground of the Alycamps in Aries and now moved to the Musée d’Art Chrétien there. Fat, shapely quinces tumble with a few figs, many lemons and a pineapple from a cornucopia, wreathed in flowers and leaves; to me, a far more moving memorial of a life lived and loved than today’s headstones.

For centuries in France and Britain quinces have been turned into this lovely sweetmeat. Small, misshapen pieces of quince are fine for this recipe if you are reserving the choice specimens for a pie or compote.

Ingredients

  • 1 kg( lb) quinces
  • up to kg(3 lb) sugar

Method

Wash the quinces in plenty of cold water, rubbing them with your hands to remove the grey down. Cut up the fruit and place in a pan with water to cover.

Cook slowly, uncovered, until the fruit is mushy. Mash gently with a wooden spoon to release all the flavour from the fruit.

Sieve the contents of the pan by rubbing all the fruit and liquid through a nylon sieve. Weigh the resulting purée and return to the pan with an equal quantity of white sugar.

Gradually bring the mixture to the boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Then cook until very thick; stir from time to time, but cover your hand because the mixture can spit.

The paste is ready when the mixture starts to come away from the sides of the pan. At this stage if you draw a wooden spoon across the base of the pan the mixture takes a few moments to flow back.

Remove from the heat and spoon into small pots or moulds to turn out and serve, sliced, with cheese.

But better, I think, is to pour the mixture into a shallow dish or non-stick baking tray. When set cut into squares or diamonds. Roll the pieces in caster sugar and arrange on a small dish for serving with coffee. Quince paste keeps for several weeks, in a cold, dry place and a small jar of pieces rolled in sugar makes a lovely present, especially for town-dwellers.

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