The general rule for pruning fruit trees is that it’s best done when the trees are dormant, during a cold and dry spell. That, for those of us living in the Netherlands, constitutes a problem. The winters are often not very cold and definitely not dry. Since I neglected pruning the quince tree down the street last year, I knew that it really needed to be done as soon as possible. The tree started fruiting early, in its second year, which, even though I love quince, is not a good thing. It means the tree was putting too much energy into developing the fruit at the expense of developing strong branches. The heavy fruit even caused one of the branches to snap. So when the temperature finally dropped and the rain stopped two weeks ago, I brought out my secateurs, took a deep breath and started cutting.
Somewhat counter intuitively, cutting plants back rigorously results in stronger growth in the next season. But despite having read numerous books on the subject and having pruned a fair number of trees over the course of the last decade, I still consider myself an amateur. I do what seems best and hope that my pruning will have the desired effect.
With the pruning crossed off my “to-do” list, I was free to turn my attention to a small box of quince, the last of our home-grown fruit stored in the cellar, that needed to be used.
Baking the quince slowly in spiced syrup until almost candied was a great way of prolonging its shelf life. Covered with the syrup, the baked quince can be stored in the fridge for at least a month. It is also marvelously versatile: it can be served with yogurt as a simple dessert or added to almost any apple dish (think pie or crisp). It can also liven up a winter compote of dried fruits.
But I have especially taken to eating the beautifully rosey wedges as an accompaniment to strong cheese. They taste equally great with aged Cheddar, Manchego or just about any blue cheese.
p.s. It is nearly winter here at the moment – we’ve even had some snow! It was a mere couple of centimeters and did not last more than a day, but it was enough to get half the trains cancelled and cause endless traffic jams.
p.p.s. The said quince tree is somewhat visible in the photo above.
Nearly candied quince
From Deborah Madison: Seasonal Fruit Desserts
250 ml (1 cup) water
500 ml (2 cups) Riesling (or more water)
300 g (1 ½ cups) sugar, preferably organic
3 wide stripes of orange zest
1 cinnamon stick
½ tsp cardamom seeds
6 large quince
60 ml (¼ cup) Riesling
In a large pot, combine the water, wine, sugar, orange zest and the spices and bring to a boil. Stir gently until the sugar dissolves, then simmer over a low heat while you prepare the quince.
Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius (375 F).
Peel the quince, half them and then cut each half into four segments. Remove the cores.
Put the quince in a shallow baking dish and pour two-thirds of the syrup over the fruit, including the spices and the zest. Bake uncovered for about two hours in total, turning the fruit every half an hour for the first hour and a half. As the syrup reduces, start turning the fruit more often frequently, so that it does not burn. The quince should be nearly translucent when done.
Remove the dish from the oven and immediately add the remaining 60 ml (¼ cup) wine. You can use the fruit straight away as a sweet meat or store in the fridge covered with the rest of the syrup.