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My quinces doth beckon the gentlemen all hither to the church-yard

November 4, 2010
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Here’s a new tradition for my Thanksgiving table, thanks to John Murrell’s A new Booke of Cookerie. Published in 1617, four years before the Plymouth Colony Thanksgiving, this is one of my finds in Oxford’s collection of ye olde cookbooks (not the official name).*

This recipe caught my eye because had never eaten a quince before, and the farmer’s market had a box of them! They were being bought-up en masse by an adorable older woman who was making Quince jelly for her husband “like the Portugese do.” I smiled and nodded, resolving to look it up later. Then I got a few quinces and was ready to roll. (Fun fact: it turns out that the word “marmalade” originally meant a quince jelly and comes from the Portugese word for the fruit, “marmelo.”)

Just to give you an idea of what I was working with, here is the original recipe. I did you the favor of re-typing so you don’t have to contend with all of the “s”s being written as “f”s.

To make a good Quince Pye

Pare them , and coare them (the best of the Quince is next to the skinne. Therefore pare it as thinne as possible.) Stuffe them with Sugar, then with as much other sugar as they weigh, put them with pieces of sliced Ginger in a Coffin, sprinkle on a little Rose-water before you close your Pye. Bake it, and let it stand long a soaking in the Oven, Ice it, and serve it in.

The recipe intends you to leave the quinces whole and stuff their centers with sugar (a whole lot of sugar), but given the hardness of the fruit, it seemed like it would take hours to cook, so I opted to slice the quinces and layer them like an apple pie.

I was only able to get my hands on a few quinces, so I decided to make this pie more of a galette. Post-pie, I think this was the right decision because the quince has such a strong flavor – a nice thin piece of galette is all you need. Shaped like a chunky pear, the quince tastes like a very tart, almost sour apple. It has a strong floral smell – something I enjoyed for the few days these were on my kitchen counter.

These are quinces:

Unsure of what kind of pie-crust Mr Murrell would have made, I opted for a sweeter version of my standard pie-crust: flour, salt, powdered sugar

Vegetable shortening and butter crumbled into the pastry until it is the “size of peas.” When in doubt, leave bigger chunks of fat in there. As my grandmother would remind me, the worst thing you can do is overwork the dough – that makes it tough. If you look at the reflection in the bowl, you can see my “taking pictures with my left hand because my right is coated in pastry” technique.

I wrapped up the finished pastry and let it chill in the fridge while I prepped the quinces.

Sliced up quinces. This was much harder than I expected – the flesh on these babies is really tough. Also, they turned brown pretty much immediately. I resolved not to care.

Now, here’s a lesson in rolling pie crust – make sure you do it on a cool surface. I realized afterward that the pipe carrying heat to the radiators runs directly under my kitchen counter. This made my crust into a patchy mess. I shoved the unruly crust onto a small baking sheet and piled half of the quinces on it.

I topped the quinces with a mixture of brown sugar, cloves, tangerine zest, and minced candied ginger. (I added the zest and cloves for a bit of spice. Cloves are pretty common in this and other cookbooks of the period – I’m surprised he doesn’t use them here.) Then I added another layer of quince and more of the brown sugar mix. I drizzled some melted butter on top with the rose water. I was sparing with the rose water, because it has a tendency to overwhelm other flavors. I would definitely add more next time to allow it to compete with the quince.

I didn’t have quite enough pastry to “close my pye.” Then again, I like that you can see the quinces through the top.

When I took it out of the oven, I’ll admit I was pretty panicked. The juice had oozed all over the place and the pan was a soupy mess. However, once I let it “stand a soaking” in my warm kitchen for about an hour, the juices were sucked up into the crust and they reduced into a thick brown-sugar-and-ginger syrup. Mmmm.

The night I actually made this, we, alas, had no ice cream. I remedied that the next day, so I can report that this is especially delicious with vanilla clotted-cream ice cream.

Quince Pye

Makes 6 generous portions
Takes about 2 hours

For the Pastry:

1 cup and 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ cup and 2 Tablespoons powdered sugar
½ teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
3 Tablespoons vegetable shortening
2-3 Tablespoons cold water

For the Filling:

3 quinces, or about 15 oz of sliced quince
1 heaping cup packed brown sugar (~8 oz)
zest of ½ orange or 1 tangerine
¼ tsp ground cloves
cup minced candied ginger
1 teaspoon rose water (I would use more in the future, maybe 1 Tablespoon, depends on your rose water.)
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1. Preheat oven to 425°F / 220°C
2. Combine flour, powdered sugar and salt in a medium-large bowl.
3. Add butter and shortening and crumble in with your hands until the lumps are about the size of peas.
4. Add water one Tablespoon at a time until the pastry comes together. Wrap it in cling wrap and allow it to chill in the fridge for 15-20 minutes.
5. Peel, core and slice the quinces into thin slices.
6. In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, minced ginger, zest and ground cloves.
7. Roll out the pastry into a large circle and lay it in a 7″ x 11″ baking pan with sides.
8. Layer half of the quince in the pastry, top with half of the brown sugar mixture, and then the remaining halves of each.
9. Drizzle all over with butter and rose water. Fold the pastry over the top of the fruit.
10. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350°, uncover and bake for another 35-40 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the fruit is tender.

*For anyone else interested in old-timey cookbooks, check out MSU’s publicly-available collection, the Historic American Cookbook Project.

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