One of the very few meals that I associate with childhood are quinces. Baked quinces, to be more specific. Every autumn, someone from my family, getting smaller and smaller with each year, used to prepare a tasty, spice-infused meal based on quinces. Very hard fruits with a very complicated texture and taste - not so sour but not sweet either - baked in an aromated sauce whose preparation was filling the air with various smells and aromas. Not the fruits I might love, but nevertheless the fruits reminding me of childhood. For years I tried to find them back and it is not that easy in Berlin, unless you are lucky to have a Russian or a Turkish store near by. Three years ago, I've found some, took them in my hands and smell them, with the same dedication as some might smell and look at the esrog on Sukkot. Actually, in the old country, the custom was to have them in the house near this beautiful autumn Jewish holiday. Only this year I've decided with all my mind and body to search for a simple recipe which might suit my visual and olfactive memories.
The escape came from the acclaimed book by Olia Hercules, Mamushka featuring Ukrainian and East European cuisine. (Actually, a couple of days ago, I've discover a similar recipe in a cooking book dedicated to the Middle East so maybe there is more history to this recipe that I thought). I was personally a bit disappointed as I was expecting some more childhood recipes, but maybe it is because the Ukrainian-, Russian speaking focus. However, my beloved baked quinces were there, waiting for me to prepare.
As usual, my recipe is an adaptation, as ingredients as juniper berries - it might sound strange to you, as it did to me initially, but if you ever tasted gin, you need to know that those small purple berries do give to that drink most of the taste - were not easy to find, and replaced cinnamon stick with powder. I used a bourbon vanilla bean which was not the best choice in terms of taste. For the star anise I preferred the powder. The ingredients of the syrup are very important as they should smoothly come along with the taste of the quince, which, as I mentioned before, is one of a kind.
As a first time try, I was happy with the result, but I am more than sure that it can be done much better.
Before you start, be sure that you have around 3 hours available for the entire preparation and baking process.
3 medium sized quinces, almost 750 gr.
100 gr. brown sugar - instead of the white recommended in the original recipe
2 tablespoon cinnamon powder
1 1/2 tablespoon star anise
1 bourbon vanilla bean
around 500 ml. water
Before starting, warm the oven at around 160C.
For the syrup, in a pan, add the sugar, 350 ml. water, spices and put to boil, while stirring slowly for around 15 minutes or until the sugar is dissolved.
Meanwhile, wash and cut the quinces into slices. Be sure you clean the core for the seeds, and the ends. You may need a very strong and sharp knife, as the raw quince has a hard texture.
Add the quinces into the syrup pan and boil it covered for around one hour in the oven at 250C. I added around 150 ml. water to be sure that the quinces are covered in syrup. Every 15 minutes I moved the quinces on sides to be sure that all parts are well covered. After one hour, take the cover and keep boiling it, with the 15 minutes checking.
Ready to be served warm.
My favorite part about it: how the aromated spices invaded the air and perfumed the house for at least half of the day.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: around 3 hours