Friday, 15 November 2013

Quince & ginger sponge pudding


The first time I cut into a quince the unyielding flesh, gritty with stone cells, and its pale, off-white, unappealing colour tending to oxidise made me despair of making anything from it.  It was the flowery aroma with notes of tropical fruit that made me buy it.  There it sat, for at least a week, perfuming my kitchen until I plucked up courage to cook it.

Poached Quince
Most of that distinctive aroma is concentrated in the skin and, like the apples and pears to which it is related, its skin cooks down well.  In Middle-Eastern cooking the quince is usually added, unpeeled, to meat dishes which are then cooked for several hours.  In the West we often remove the skin, seemingly only for aesthetic reasons, just as we regularly peel apples for cooking.  Note to self: think twice before peeling.

Picked when it turns a pale yellow, long, slow cooking with sugar softens the natural astringency of the quince and turns the flesh ruby-red and translucent.  High in pectin, it makes wonderful jam, jelly, syrup and fruit cheese or Membrillo.  It was used by the Portuguese to make the original 'marmalade' (marmelo being Portuguese for quince) before it was usurped by the Seville orange. In 16th century France quince were stored immersed in honey.

The Quince has long been associated with love. Brides scented their breath with a bite of quince.  Poets referred to it in their love poems.  Despite searching long and hard, I can find no better love poem than the one Jane Grigson recommended.

" …When it stood fragrant on the bough and the leaves 
had woven for it a covering of brocade,

I gently put up my hand to pluck it and to set it
like a  censer in the middle of my room. 

It had a cloak of ash-coloured down hovering over
its smooth golden body,

and when it lay naked in my hand, with nothing more than
its daffodil-coloured shift,

it made me think of her I cannot mention, and I feared
the ardour of my breath would shrivel it in my fingers…"

                                                                          Shafer ben Utman al-Mushafi

Quince & ginger steamed sponge pudding

From Moorish Andalucia to England.  To mark the change from autumn to winter,  I've married a favourite simple ginger steamed sponge recipe with a vanilla scented poached quince for a very English style steamed pudding.

Quince & ginger steamed sponge pudding
with cream

Quince & ginger steamed sponge pudding
(Serves 4-6)

About 400g poached quince, including syrup
115g (4oz) softened butter
60g (2oz) soft dark brown sugar
2 medium eggs
115g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 knob of preserved stem ginger + a little syrup, OR, 1 tsp ground ginger
A pinch of salt
1 tablespoon milk

Lightly butter a 550ml (1 pint) pudding basin and in the bottom place the poached quince (and preserved ginger if using) with the syrup.
In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs together.  In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, (powdered ginger, if using) and pinch of salt.
Cream the soft butter with the sugar well then gradually add the eggs, beating well - add a tablespoon of flour if the mixture begins to curdle.  
Gently fold in the dry ingredients followed by the milk.
Spoon the mixture on top of the quince.
Cover the basin with a square of buttered greaseproof paper (folded into a pleat) and tie in place.  Top with a pleated square of kitchen foil.
Steam for 1 hour.

Good served with a thin custard or cream.