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The forgotten fruit

Our country cook hails the revival of the quince: an exotic, versatile but underrated gem. First, she strikes out for an orchard in Essex to find out how this regal fruit is reclaiming its crown, before heading back to her kitchen to conjure up dishes worthy of the quince’s unique flavour

DEBBIE MAJOR’S BEST OF BRITISH

COOKING WITH OUR FINEST PRODUCE

PHOTOGRAPHS ANDREW MONTGOMERY

"Golden yellow, shaped like huge lumpy pears and covered in a downy fluff, quinces were once known as the fruit of kings. After their heyday in the 17th and 18th centuries, the fruit fell out of favour – probably not helped by the fact that they’re inedible raw, fiddly to prepare and need to be cooked slowly (usually with lots of sugar) before eating.

When ripe, though, quinces are exotically scented, and cooked they take on a beautiful colour and unbeatable, deep favour. You’ll need to search for them at farmers’ markets and good greengrocers. When I need some, I call Shirley and Charles Trollope, who changed from growing apples to quinces and have an orchard in Fingringhoe, just outside Colchester in Essex. "

Lamb and quince tagine with chermoula and buttered couscous, p54

FOOD HEROES Shirley & Charles Trollope of Clay Barn Orchard

The Trollopes’ original apple orchard was planted by Charles’s father-in-law in 1937. Charles and Shirley took over 30 years ago, not knowing a thing about fruit farming. The business did well enough until the apple trees fell victim to bullfinches migrating south from Scandinavia, which stopped to feast every year on the tasty young flower buds.

“The damage done by the birds was devastating, so I decided to seek another crop,” explains Charles. “I came across the quince, which doesn’t have a visible winter bud – but I couldn’t buy the trees anywhere. We hired a local nurseryman to raise the trees for us and three years later we planted our first quince orchard.” The market for the fruit grew and soon they planted a second orchard to meet demand.

They now have three acres of quince trees, 12 medlar trees, seven varieties of crab apples and an acre of apples. “We grow seven varieties of quince,” Charles explains. “Vranja quinces are the largest and ludovic are the smallest. Any quince will do any job, but vranja are the easiest to prepare. Jam makers usually prefer ludovic, though.”

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About delicious. Magazine

Ottolenghi is back! Find his new recipes in our October issue, along with the best things to eat this autumn including Hugh F-W’s cheesy gratin, Atul Kochhar's home cooking and easy one-pot meals. There’s also a Mexican chilli cook-off, proper bao buns and a foolproof beef wellington. On the sweet side, get stuck into John Whaite's rich chocolate cake, a frangipane crumble and our ultimate biscuit collection – better put the kettle on…