If you, like me, look at the fragrant pulp left in the jelly bag after making quince jelly and think “I can’t throw that wonderful stuff out!” take comfort: there are things you can do with it.
In all fairness, I should point out that even as you try to force the lumpy, un-cooperative mass through a sieve, your rose-tinted view of quince pulp might change for the worse. But if you’re determined, and you have the patience and arm muscles to persevere, you won’t be sorry.
One simple use is to sieve a nice blob, add some peeled, cored and chopped cooking apples and a splosh of fruit juice of your choice, plus a few shakes of whichever spices take your fancy (cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg etc) then cook this gently over a low heat until the apple is soft and use the lot as a pie filling or top it with crumble.
Another more typically Italian use for it is cotognata – a sweet of Turkish Delight-ish consistency which was once a fixture on Italian Christmas-tide tables but has rather fallen out of fashion. Perhaps – and this is a warning – because the effort involved is about the same as a tough hour lifting weights in the gym. But no: if I can do it (with only slight shoulder ache the following morning), anyone can. Before you begin, fetch a stool or step ladder high enough to sit on and stir the pot comfortably, and a very good novel.
Thick quince pulp – 1.5 kg
Sugar – 1 kg
Sugar – for coating
Push enough quince pulp through a sieve (or grind it through an old-fashioned mouli using the finest disc) to obtain 1.5 kilos of pip- and skin-free pulp. Heat this thoroughly in a thick-bottomed saucepan over a low flame: depending on how much liquid there is in your pulp, you may need to add half a cup or so of water at this point simply to make it workable. When it’s hot, gradually pour in the sugar, stirring the whole time.
Now turn up the heat as far as you dare – medium-hot is probably safer than hot-hot – and don’t stop stirring. If you do, you’ll find yourself with a toffee-lined saucepan which you will never scrape clean again. Protect your stirring hand with a thick oven glove, because this molten glug will gurgle and spit. You want to reduce the mixture, turning it into a blob so thick that you’ll need all your strength to get the wooden spoon through it. This should take about 30-40 minutes during which time that stool and novel will come in very handy.
You’ll know the mixture has reduced enough when it starts to behave differently: each spoon stroke will lift the blobby mass cleanly off the bottom of the pot, like a thick roux when you’re making bechamel. Continue cooking for a few minutes more, then you’re ready.
Line one large or sufficient small low-sided baking trays with greaseproof paper, and tip the mixture on to the paper. Spread it so that it’s a generous 1cm thick all over. As soon as you can, smooth the top neatly, either with wet hands or a wet plastic spatula: if you try to do it with anything dry, the mixture will stick.
Now you need to leave it to dry somewhere warm, for about 12 hours. The place doesn’t need to be very warm: keeping an oven on low for 12 hours, for example, isn’t strictly necessary. I placed mine on a trivet on top of my wood-burning stove. A warm airing cupboard will do fine, or some kind of shelf rigged up above a warm radiator. After this long drying period, the cotognata should be rubbery and not at all sticky to the touch.
Fill a mug with boiling water, leave a sharp knife to heat up in it, then cut your cotognata into 2cm squares, keeping the knife hot and damp all the time to stop the slab wrinkling and tearing as you cut it.
Put some sugar in a small bowl and toss each of the pieces in it, shaking off any excess. Lay the pieces neatly in an air-tight container, placing greaseproof or rice paper between the layers. It should keep for weeks, if not months… though it probably won’t because it tends to disappear very quickly over the Christmas period.
© Anne Hanley, 2011