Raw, a quince will win no-one's heart, poor lass, in spite of the exotic perfume she brings to the kitchen, but cook a quince and she will morph into a thing of utter, seductive beauty. There are a tonne of recipes for poaching them, each with its own transformative merits, but the best quince recipe by a mile this year came via Nigel Slater's Tender | Volume II. Simmered in a syrup of cassis and vanilla, the combination makes for a deep, dark bruise of purple on the plate and in the pan, an extraordinary and rather grown-up sight to behold. Crème de cassis, a liquer made from blackcurrants, is surprising here, a real winner I reckon; a tiny drizzle lifts disappointing berries to the next level; you can try it in a salad dressing if you dare and, if all else fails, a Kir Royale is no bad thing.
nigel's quinces poached with cassis
Dissolve 2/3 cup sugar in 1 litre of water with a vanilla pod, split down its length with the tip of a knife, in a heavy, deep pan, stirring all the time. Add 1 cup of Crème de cassis and bring to a boil. Thickly peel, then core 3 quinces. Slice as thick as you like, immerse in the syrup, reduce to a simmer and, in Nigel's own words, "leave to cook for a good 40-60 minutes till the fruit is soft and full of juice, like a canned pear."
Cousin of the globe artichoke, cardoons, like the uncooked quince, make little culinary sense at first, for it is not the pretty thistle head we eat, but the fleshy mid-ribs of the leaves. Given enough space to spread out, you'll get more food from a cardoon plant than an artichoke and that makes good garden sense to me. Have I cooked with them yet? No. But soon. Very soon. If you have, and you have a great idea for using them, let me know?