Quince Paste: Sweatmeat to Kings

The quince, when ripe resembles a firm, yellow pear. With an aroma reminiscent of roses and apples, this is one of the oddest of period fruits. Containing perhaps the highest pectin count of any tree fruit, it's tart flesh lends itself beautifully to jams, jellies and "cheeses", recipes which benefit from the addition of large amounts of sugar.

Originally, Quince Preserves were shipped to England from the Mediterranean, Spain, France, Portugal and points south. It wasn’t until the sixteenth century that records of their being grown natively exist. Many Medieval texts hold recipes for jellies, and fruit pastes made from the Quince. These were called chardequince or chardewarden, where the fruit was often mixed with pears for a pleasing flavor. According to Historicfood.com, “Other names were cotoniack, quiddany and diasetonia. The last was a term used by the London apothecaries, who prescribed these sweet pastes and jellies for helping the digestion. This was the reason why quince pastes were served after the meal during the banquet course. In 1629, John Parkinson, the Covent Garden based herbarist to James I, wrote:
"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".
White and red quince pastes were both popular, the latter sometimes being coloured with barberry juice or cochineal. Quinces were also considered to be an aphrodisiac - probably the reason why seventeenth century London prostitutes were known as marmalade madams. The following recipes are from a Mr. Borella, confectioner to the Spanish Ambassador to the English Court in the mid 18th century.
Quince Paste Let your quinces be full ripe, boil them till they are quite tender, drain and sift them as usual; reduce the marmalade (on the fire) to a paste-consistence, stirring continually, accord­ing to the quantity of quince-marmalade; refine a pound of sugar to three quarters of quinces; mix them together on a very flow fire without boiling, put it into what form you please directly, and dry as usual. Red Quince Paste To make the paste of a fine red, bake the quinces in the oven a long while, then peel and sift them in a strong hair-sieve; dry the marmalade over a slow fire a little while, to about half the consistency of a paste then to redden it the more, keep it a good while on a slow ashes-fire, stirring some time; and to add to this redness, put a little steeped cochineal, and reduce it on a flow fire, to a thick paste; that is, when it loosens from the Pan; put as much sugar as marmalade, or paste, soak it a little while on the fire and let it cool, just enough to work it well with the hands, and finish directly as usual. From Borella, The Court and Country Confectioner (London: 1770) Enjoyed this article? Browse our giftshop at janeaustengiftshop.co.uk for Regency recipe books!