“They dined on quince – and slices of mince,
Served up with a runcible spoon”
Edward Lear, The Owl & the Pussycat
I have always liked foods beginning with Q – Quesadilla, Quiche, Quail, Quahog (type of clam), Quark (cheese), Quinoa (grain), Quince and Quosh. Quince and Quosh being my favourites – not because they are my most favoured dishes, but because they are so exotic. Quince hails from Ancient Persia and may have been the real fruit that tempted Eve. The apple was just a cover-up. A citrus conspiracy to hide the fruit that no-one wants you to know about. More about quince later…
Quosh, less mysterious, but hails instead from the 1970s; from the mystical land of diluting juices that magically transform into squash. Its advertising slogan was; “Only Quosh can quench the big bad thirst” and various muppet aliens would tell you how refreshing it was.
Only 10 years ago, the cinema in St Andrews in the north-east of Scotland was still gas lit and sold dusty boxes of Quosh displayed behind glass cases as if they were Oscars or Emmys. The entire cinema was a bizarre time capsule. Even the tickets had escaped inflation at just £2.30 a ticket. This was a wondrous place, where you could buy foods from the land that time forgot. Marathons and Opal Fruits all came to hide along with the Quosh and the Pac Man ghosts.
Quosh has cropped up on a number of occassions in my life. While traipsing around Ireland on a hunt for long lost relatives with my dad, we stopped off to meet some distant cousins – two sisters who lived in a rambling old house in the middle of nowhere. Not having seen children for several hundred years, they were unsure what to give me and my brother. After a few minutes of rummaging around the closets, they rustled up some squash – not just any squash – the great and mighty Quosh. Great – we thought – we didn’t drink coffee or tea, due to a pact made a few years ago never to drink this grown up gloop. So, out came the Quosh. Two glasses. We looked at it for a while. There seemed to be flaky bits floating around in it. Were there usually bits in Quosh? Odd, we thought, but we proceeded to lift the glass to taste it. Smells a bit funny, we thought, but maybe its a flavour we’ve not had before. Yes – if that favour was rancid! I have never tasted anything so vile (except for a Durian fruit). We spent the next three hours sipping this rotting fruit drink and tipping the rest into saucers, flower pots, the cat – whatever we could get our hands on. After a tour of the house, we stopped off in the kitchen. There was the offensive bottle of Quosh. The contents were almost black – surely that could not be right. Reading the label on the back. The best before date, was 1973. This was 1990. The quest for Quosh was well and truly over. No more would I seek out this squash after this traumatic experience.
Quince, however, I have had very few encounters with. This may be because quince are only available between October and December, so obtaining these rare creatures needs a certain amount of subterfuge and detective work.
I obtained my quince in a fairly shady manner. You can’t buy quince. You have to know people who have quince. It’s like a secret society. A friend of a friend who was a colleague of my brother’s had a quince tree. My brother took possession of the quince somewhere in north London. The quince then made their way across London on the Northern line, before it was handed over to me in a pub in a dark alley near Charing Cross. The quince (I was only allowed one – as this was my first time) was exchanged for a pint of Guinness and a lecture on what to do with it (under no circumstances feed quince after midnight). I then disguised it as an apple and smuggled it through airport customs to take it back up to the frozen north – Scotland.
My secret transportation plans were, however, foiled as this fruit was about as subtle as a skunk. Its pineappley, citrusy scent filled the the cab, the train, and the plane cabin. It was like smuggling Vin Diesel in a hello kitty bag – it stuck out like a sore thumb. I’m not sure why I even bothered to wrap it up in tissue paper as quince are as hard as rocks and need to be cooked before they can be eaten. It’s a good thing to have in your bag in an airport – every time you get bumped in the check-in queue frenzy, people get a whiff of the exotic fruit that’s nestled in the undergrowth of your bag. They are immediately transported to distant lands and joyful times before they realise they are stuck in a rainy London airport with an irate and bruised passenger glaring back at them, brandishing a rock hard quince that looks suspiciously like Vin Diesel.
Mincemeat (with Quince) Recipe
grated zest and juice of 3 oranges
2 cox apples
2 quince, chopped
100g orange marmalade
250g soft brown sugar
100ml Jamaican dark rum
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
100g blanched almonds
I’ve adapted this from a lot of different recipes – and you can swap out fruits for ones you prefer. The plums and orange juice make a sticky sauce for the minced meat of fruit and quince. Stew the plums in the sugar and orange juice until mushy. Mix the dried fruits, marmalade and spices together. Pour over the brandy and rum. Leave to stand for about 12 hours before putting the mixture into airtight, sterilised jars. I made my mincemeat a good three months before Christmas – but couldn’t resist taking a peak and smelling the boozy fruits every few weeks.
I used some leftover mincemeat to make some early mince pies and served it with a whole poached quince. Peel and Poach your quince in a pint of water, a couple of tablespoons of sugar, a star anise, cinnamon stick and 2 cloves. Leave it to poach for around 25 minutes or until soft. Serve with greek honey and yoghurt.
Quick Quesadilla Recipe
tortillas (flour – but I prefer corn)
Oaxaca cheese (if you can get it, otherwise a nice rubbery cheese like Leerdammer mixed with a bit of mozzarella)
thin slices of red onion
strips of salty ham
spicy hot sauce
Put one tortilla onto a hot pan. Fill the middle with the onion, cheese and ham and top with hot sauce. Put another tortilla lid on top and press down using a spatula. Flip over and toast on the other side. Slice into triangles and serve while imagining yourself on a Mexican beach sipping an ice-cold Quosh.
Quince Chutney (Adapted from the British Larder)
250ml white wine vinegar
250g caster sugar
1kg ripe quinces
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 bay leaf
1 large onion, finely diced
50g ginger, grated finely
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
My brother always makes Quince chutney and brings it out at Christmas to have with some lovely mild Arran cheese. Mix all the ingredients together in a pan and cook until thick and delicious.