“There is no fruit growing in this Land that is of so many excellent uses as this, serving as well to make many dishes of meate for the table, as for banquets, and much more for the Physicall vertues”. – John Parkinson, Covent Garden based herbalist to James I, 1629*
The Quince was a prized fruit throughout the middle ages, beloved for its fragrant golden fruit. The fruits are quite astringent and rather tough, and as such are often cooked rather than eaten raw. High in pectin, they were (and are) used similarly to pears and apples. (1) Pies, sauces, jellies, purees, and sauces were common ways to capitalize on the fruit. They were sometimes stuffed and cooked whole. The word “marmalade is from the the Portuguese word marmelo, quince, and marmelado, quince jam.” (2)
Quince, Cydonia oblonga, are in the Rosaceae family, as are apples and pears. Originating from Caucasus, the fruit may have been the golden apple which Paris gave to Aphrodite. The fruit was dedicated to her and the ancient Greeks enjoyed quince greatly.(3) When cooked, they become a beautiful wine color.
Quince has been cooked with since antiquity. I love quince – it’s scent is intoxicating and so I decided to make an actual intoxicant using quince: a quince cordial. Pears and apples have been used to make and flavor liquor, so it seemed only appropriate to preserve quince in this manner too.
In period, cordials were more frequently used as a delivery method for medicine rather than for pleasure, though it’s possible that beverages “for the stomack” might have been served during a meal to settle the stomach between courses. The quince and pear pastes were often used in this manner, served at the close of a meal to help aid digestion. This recipe incorporated two Bosc pears which were too ripe to eat, but which were too fragrant to throw away. In the spirit of medieval thrift, I added them to the brew. Bosc pears are a cultivar of the European pear, Pyrus communis. It is believed that the Bosc pear was raised from a seed in 1807 Belgium by M. Bosc, the Director of the Paris Botanical Garden.(4)
two bosc pears
1.5 cup white sugar
one quart brandy (Christian Brothers)
one quart water (added later)
White pepper, cinnamon, ginger
The Quince, once very ripe, were sliced roughly and put in a large jar. They were covered with 1 quart of Christian Brothers brandy. Added were white pepper, cinnamon, and a “thumb’s width” of fresh ginger. The mix was made in the winter of 2014. Sampled that spring, the taste was very harsh and alcohol was the dominant flavor. The bottle was put away again to sit. When opened once more in the fall of 2015, it had mellowed and the fragrance and flavor of quince was readily apparent.
Note: The taste of the beverage turned out to be exceptionally mild. While it had a scent of delicate quince, it held only the slightest note of quince and a little of pear. The cinnamon and ginger were utterly lost and the white pepper could be sensed only during an inward breath at the very end of a well-tasted sip – a little burn along the sides of the tongue.
It was, however, marvelously drinkable and will make an excellent sipping beverage to go with a hunk of strong, hard cheese, hard sausage, honey, and fruit.
It was heavily influenced by the recipe for “Ratafia of Quinces” and the spices were inspired by that recipe as well. The recipe, from 1733, appears long after even Digby (1669) and after 1671’s “A Queens Delight” cookbook on candies and cordials. The book from which it comes borrowed heavily from a 1692 volume on court cookery and confectionary. (11)
However, when one cuts through it, there are many medicinal recipes in period, many quince recipes (including the sauce of rosehips and quince, below), and a long history of flavoring wines and waters with sugar and fruit.
Cordials require aqua vitae, and my preferred is brandy. Brandy was a period beverage – wine had been a trading product for centuries, and in the early 16th century a Dutch trader is credited with inventing “the way to ship more wine in the limited cargo space by removing water from the wine. Then he could add the water back to the concentrated wine at the destination port in Holland. They called it “bradwijn,” meaning “burned wine,” and later became “brandy.” (10)
I used white cane sugar in the recipe which was being produced in the middle east and had been since the 12th century. In the 15th century it cost about the same as the spices imported from Asia’s tropics, which were shipped across the Indian Ocean. Ginger, pepper, and cinnamon were among those spices which were sugar’s equal.
Quince Marmalade, The Good Housewife’s Jewell (England, 1596), has a recipe entitled “To make Marmelat of Quinces”. (5)
To make Marmelat of Quinces. You must take a pottle of Water, and foure pound of Suger, and so let them boyle together, and when they bryle, you must skimme them as cleane as you can, and you must take the whites of two or three Egges, and beate them to froth, and put the froth into the pan for to make the skum to rise then skimme it asa cleane as you can, and then take off the kettle and put in the Quinces, and let them boyle a good while, and when they boyle, you must stirre them stil, and when they be boyled you must boxe them vp.
A Cordial Water of Sir Walter Raleigh (A Queens Delight in The Art of Preserving, Conserving and Candying, 1671 by a WM *****) (6)
“Take a gallon of Strawberries, and put them into a pint of Aqua vitæ, let them stand for four or five days, strain them gently out, and sweeten the water as you please with fine Sugar; or else with perfume.”
Ratafia of Quinces – quince syrup, middle eastern
3 quinces sliced w mandoline, 1.5cp sugar, liquid to cover the quinces
You must have some Quinces, and rasp them with a Grater; all being grated, you must have a Piece of strong Cloth, put in a small handful, and squeese it with all your Might, that the Juice may come from it; when all is squeesed and you have all the Juice, put it in a Preserving pan, let it take just one single Boiling, and let it cool; being cooled, measure two Quarts of Juice and two Quarts of Brandy, Measure by Measure, and clarify some Sugar; to each two Quarts, ten Ounces of Sugar, a Piece of Cinnamon, four Cloves, and three or four Grains of white Pepper whole; stop up your Jug very close, put it aside for two or three Months, put it through a Straining-bag, until it come very clear, and put it up in Bottles flopped very close.
From Vincent la Chapelle, The Modern Cook (London: 1733) (7)
A note on Ratafia: Original text: A ratafia was an infused alcoholic cordial water which was produced without distillation. The classic flavour was made from the kernels of apricot or cherry stones. As a result, the English sometimes called these drinks ‘kernel waters’. Ratafia made from peach kernels was called persico, while that from bitter almonds was known as noyeau. They all have a sweet marzipan flavour like the Italian liqueur amaretto, which is in fact a ratafia. The crushed kernels were infused in brandy or aqua vitae for a couple of months before being filtered out and sweetened. There is a danger in trying to replicate these drinks, because the stones of these fruits all produce a small amount of cyanide when soaked in water! Be warned. It is much safer to make quince ratafia from La Chapelle’s recipe. (7)
A sauce of Rosehip and Quince in the cookbook of Anna Wecker, 1598
So that the rosehip may also serve since it has a pit and small gravel / you may also well give this to the sick to restore breath and liveliness / as well as to children / it is made thusly: When they become ripe /so break them off in nice weather / cut them in two pieces clear the pit and the hairs from it / go neatly with the circumference / so that there is no hair therein remaining hanging / wash them clean and simmer in half wine and water / or a bit more water / until they are a bit softened / So lift them out onto a fine white cloth / take then sugar and the liquid wherein they were boiled / and mix the sugar therewith/ and when it is half boiled off / so put the peels back there-in / let them simmer with each other/until the sugar spins (forms a thread) / so remove / make it right / it should be made most like a sour cherry sauce / and thus prepares one this also with clear sweet grape juice / one mashes this together also into a sauce or mush / prepared with quince / with sugar / honey and sweet wine / [it] serves well as a sweet and cold sauce on many dishes as you have . One places it on roasts like capons. (8.)
(Original recipe) Von Hieffen oder Butten – Dieweil die hieffen auch denen dienen sollen so den Steinvnnd Grie? haben / m?gen sie auch etwan wol den kranck-en zu einem luft vnnd labung gelassen werden / besonders den Kindern / die bereit also: Wann sie zu ihrer Zeitung kom-men / so brichs ab in einem sch?nem Wetter / schneid sie in zwey theil /raum die Stein vnd haar herau? / gehe sch?n mit vmb / da? dir keinhaar daran bleib hangen / wasch sie sauber vnd seuds in halb Weinvnnd Wasser / oder etwa mehr Wasser / bi? sie ein wenig lind sind /so heb? herau? auff ein sch?n wei? Tuch / nimb dann Zucker vnnddie Br?h darinnen sie gesotten / vnnd versam den Zucker darmit /vnd wann er auff des halb gesotten / so thu die Sch?le wider dar-ein / la? mit einander sieden / bi? der Zucker spinnet / so behalts / maches recht / sie sollen wol wie Weichseln Br?h haben / vnd also bereitsman sie auch mit lauterm s?ssen Most / man treibts auch durch zueiner S?ltz oder Mu? / bereits mit Quitten / mit Zucker / honigvnnd s?ssem Wein / dienet wol zu s?ssem vnnd kalten Br?hlein /an viel Essen wie du sie hast. Man stellts zu Bratens wie Ca-pern. (9)
This was paneled for the East Kingdom Brewer’s Guild at The Endewearde Hunt, October 2015.
Image1: Quince, Tacuinum Sanitatis, ca. 1400
Image 2: Juan Sánchez Cotán, Still Life with Quince, Cabbage, Melon, and Cucumber, c. 1602-1603
“Closely related to apples and pears, quince (Cydonia oblonga) is a distinct species whose fruits have an irregular shape, a wooly white coat when green, a bright golden color when ripe, and a delicious perfume all their own. (Quince is the sole member of the genus Cydonia; flowering quince (Chaenomeles japonica), a shrub grown for its coral-pink flowers, does bear a small quince-like fruit, but is another species altogether.)
Quinces are said to ripen early and well enough to be eaten out of hand in warmer climates, but in northern Europe and here in the United States, they are still quite hard, dry, and astringent when they finally begin to grow golden and aromatic in the second half of October. For this reason, quinces are usually eaten cooked, not raw. Quinces have a lot of pectin, and make excellent jams and jellies. They can also be made into quince paste (membrillo in Spanish, cotognata in Italian, cotignac in French). In the Middle Ages, this stiff conserve was pressed into boxes or fancy forms, sliced, and eaten with the fingers as part of the dessert course. (Alan Davison, The Oxford Companion to Food, 1999). Nowadays quince paste is often served as an accompaniment to cheese. While the sweetened fruit may be baked in pies and tarts, there are also many savory recipes that combine quince with poultry and with meat.
Quince appears in a famous ninth-century edict, the Capitulare de villis, in which the emperor Charlemagne decreed which plants were to be grown on the imperial estates. It is one of several kinds of fruit trees shown growing in the orchard-cemetery of the monastery on the ninth-century plan of St.Gall—a very beautiful way of carrying out the idea that the monks would enter Paradise when they died.
Native to the Caucasus, quince was widely distributed throughout the Mediterranean in antiquity. The modern name of the genus comes from the ancient city of Cydonia (modern-day Khania) in Crete, where quince trees grew in abundance. The identification of the quince with the golden apples of the Hesperides was made in antiquity by the Greek botanist Theophrastus. The quince was also identified with the golden apple awarded to Aphrodite in the Judgment of Paris, and was sacred to the goddess of love and fertility. According to the ancient historian Plutarch, the Athenian lawgiver Solon directed that a bride should nibble at a quince before entering the nuptial chamber, a symbolism that was recreated in the Renaissance. (Mirella D’Ancona Levi, The Botanical Garden of the Renaissance, 1977.)
Quince has a long history of medicinal use. The ancient Greek herbalist Dioscorides, whose De Materia Medica was influential throughout the Middle Ages, recommended the fruit as a diuretic, a styptic, and an astringent; it was also used to counteract dysentery and as a poultice for inflamed breasts. (Frank Anderson, German Herbals through 1500, 1984.) The mucilage from the seed coats has humectant and emollient properties and is used today in natural cosmetics.”
—Deirdre Larkin – The Cloisters, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC