by Hilary Rowley
It's far too miserable outside at the moment, and even thinking about doing garden-type things is beyond me -- blame it on the 'sleety showers'. Thoughts instead turn to food, as they do, and the fruit stored in the apple boxes in our pantry.
On the subject of pantries, modern houses are generally too warm for food storage, but if you can keep a room cool and dry and an even temperature with a bit of ventilation, it will do. Those safe cupboards in old houses with the mesh screen opening onto the shady south wall of the house were just the thing. The garage or shed would probably be OK if you can keep the rodents out.
An awful winter's day at home is perfect for some slow cooking, like the making of quince paste. I have lost my actual recipe, but it's easy enough without one. I use four big quinces, but any number is fine. Put your quinces whole, stalk, skin and all, in a pot of water and boil them until they are tender. Drain them and leave them to cool. When you can handle them, peel off the skins, remove the cores and mush up the resulting pulpy flesh.
Measure your quince pulp in a cup into a deep, thick-bottomed pot. Skinny-bottomed pots are hopeless as your mixture will burn and stick. For each cup of quince pulp add one cup of sugar. Gently heat this mixture, stirring all the time with a wooden spoon. It's a thick and sticky mixture so set yourself up next to the stove on a bar stool, with a book, and stir it frequently for as long as it takes.
When the spoon can be dragged through the mixture and leaves a distinct track, and the mixture has a shiny, glossy look, pour it into trays in a layer 1.5-2cm thick. I grease the trays with just a trace of cooking oil. You can use a sponge roll tin, or those plastic storage boxes made out of the non-cancer-causing plastic. Place the trays in your hot-water cupboard for a couple or more weeks, turn occasionally if you want. When the slab is firmish, you can slice it up into squares and wrap them in baking paper. Store in an air-proof container.
Next time the weather is really nasty and too cold for outdoor pursuits, sit back by the fire with a cup of good coffee and a slice of quince paste on a cracker, and consider trying the same recipe using apples instead of quinces.