A story that will make you turn to jelly...
As yellow as sunshine and as warm as a winter fireplace... The quince isn't very pretty, but the people of Provence love it. You could even say that a passion has been born between this irregular-shaped fruit, somewhat resembling a dented, rustic pear and our lovers of jams, jellies and pastes. Red like the setting sun on a blustery winter's day or orange like the forest leaves when you head off to hunt for mushrooms, the quince is a fruit of many faces.
"I've always loved quinces. My mum and grandparents used to cook them", confides Marie-Laure with a happy grin. When she was 6 years old, her father even planted a quince tree in their garden and it grew up at the same time as this family of five. "We are a pied noir family and in North Africa, we used to eat quinces in season, in autumn. We didn't preserve them for Christmas at the time", continues Marie-Laure la Martégale. "When I married Frédéric, who comes from an old Provencal family, we started making quince paste to serve with the traditional 13 Desserts".
It has to be said, you'll be hard put to keep your quince paste, because children love it. "A few years ago, my two sons ate 2 kilos in a week!", laughs the young mother of Andréa and Sacha.
Quince simply goes with everything: it lights up lamb and chicken tagines, makes crumbles sparkle and even vies for pride of place with other stars of the season, such as apples and pears. Never averse to a little exoticism, it marries perfectly with vanilla and cinnamon.
But if there is one recipe that beats them all, it has to be quince paste. This marvel entered the temple of gastronomy thanks to cook Jean-Baptiste Reboul, who set the gold standard in the first edition of his culinary bible "La Cuisinière Provençale" in 1897. To put paid to debate, there is no lemon juice in Reboul's quince paste. Of course you are free to add some - if you really must...
When it comes to dosing the sugar there are several schools:
- equal weights, 2 kg of fruit for 1.5 kg of sugar or
- 1 kg of fruit for 600 g of sugar
It's up to you to add as much as you want, but remember sugar is a good preservative.
How do you make the paste?
First and foremost, wash the fruit and brush it to remove the fine down that protects it. Some prefer to peel the fruit slowly to give it time to oxidize and give the paste a pinkish-amber colour. Others recommend peeling it rapidly or simply cutting it into large pieces before plunging it into boiling water. The skin is important because it contains pectin, vital for a consistent paste, so remember to place it in a muslin pouch in the cooking water to help the paste stiffen.
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Cook for around 45 minutes – the fruit is ready when you can stick a fork into it easily Now it's time for the jam pot: a copper pot is as classy as it gets.
Your jam pot should contain the cooked quince, sugar and a bit of cooking water. Some people add vanilla too. You can start cooking the paste now, stirring often with a long spoon. Caution: copper doesn't mix well with other metals, so opt for a wooden spoon.
The paste will reduce as it cooks. Keep stirring and "when the paste is cooked, it will detach itself from the pot in a single piece", in the words of master Reboul
Now all you have to do is place it in a container with raised sides and leave it to solidify for several hours. Once firm, you can cut it into pieces with a knife. "Preparing quince paste is a family event", says Marie-Laure. "It is a festive fruit – that of Christmas in Provence". Maybe even the star of the 13 Christmas Desserts? Reboul isn't letting on…
Le Grand Pastis offers a picture-postcard portrait of gourmet Provence. Pierre Psaltis shares his conception of gastronomy, from the simplest to the most sophisticated, presents his tasted-and-approved recipes, uncorks the finest vintages and invites you out to dinner... A concentrate of news, spiked with the inimitable local accent.
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A gourmet treat…
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