12 January 2011

Yellow as young flame

There is, of course, more than one way to cook a quince. They may be stewed, baked, combined with apples in pies, made into jelly, preserved in syrup, or prepared just about any other way you can think of. One of the more delightful savoury uses for them is the sawse madame found in the late 14th-century English cookbook, The Forme of Curye.

When I am lucky enough to have quinces, but not so lucky as to have a fine goose, I fall back on a marmalade that exists in some form everywhere quinces do, is demonstrably ancient, and is also blessedly simple.

The word marmalade, now applied almost exclusively to citrus preserves, originally meant a quince preserve, the quince being known in Portugese as marmelo, from the Latin melimelum, ‘honey apple.’ The other Latin name for the fruit, cotoneum, descended into French word for a quince, coing.

Possibly the oldest description of a quince marmalade in the west is in the Natural History of Pliny, where he mentions quinces being boiled up with wine and water to make a preserve eaten with bread. In the fourth century, Palladius gives not one but two recipes for 'cydonites' in Opus Agriculturae (De re rustica); one a simple preparation of quinces cooked in honey and seasoned with pepper; the other a chutney-like preserve of quinces, honey, and vinegar seasoned with both pepper and ginger.

One also finds quince marmalade in modern Iran, in the form of morabba-yeh beh, which may be seasoned with lime juice, rosewater, and cardamom, and in 19th-century English and American manuals of domestic economy, which disagree wildly about what ratio of sugar to fruit is appropriate.

Next: a recipe, at last.

Louise Bogan

1 comment:

  1. Interesting etymology of marmalade! Quince bushes used to grow in the lot behind my house until the man with the chainsaw mowed them down.


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