There's nothing quite like a quince. A bowlful of them will perfume the whole kitchen and one quince can transform a humble apple crumble into something sublime.
My late father-in-law had an enormous quince tree in his garden and we caused some hilarity in his village when we were spotted picking them wearing, in my case, a cycling helmet, and in my husband's, his grandad's old air raid warden's hat.
Quinces are rock hard, let me tell you, and it's quite painful if a falling fruit hits you on the head.
But they're worth it. When we replanted the small orchard in our garden a quince tree was an essential component and to our pleasure it bore fruit for the first time this year.
Quinces can't be eaten raw but they're wonderful cooked: in pies and crumbles, made into a jelly to eat with lamb and in savoury dishes like this tagine.
As we were given some pheasants recently we used one here, in a recipe adapted from one in Diana Henry's Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons.
Pheasant and Quince Tagine
(Serves 2-4 depending on level of hunger and size of pheasant)
1 quince, peeled, quartered, cored and put in acidulated water
4 pheasant joints (breasts only or breasts and legs)
2 1/2 oz (70g) butter and a splash of oil to stop it burning
1 tsp each of freshly ground coriander and cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne
3 fat cloves of garlic, crushed
2 medium onions, peeled and roughly chopped
14 fl oz (400ml) water or chicken stock
1/2 cinnamon stick
4tbsp runny honey
1 large bunch of coriander, roughly chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 strip of lemon rind
1/2 tsp saffron threads, dissolved in a little warm water
Wash the fluff off the quince then peel, quarter and core it. They're rock hard so don't let your knife slip like I did. Ow.
Put the pieces in acidulated water (a tablespoon or two of water and a good squeeze of lemon juice) until you need them as they turn brown very quickly.
Melt the butter with the oil in a casserole or deep frying pan.
Brown the pheasant until turning golden on both sides and remove.
Add the cumin, coriander and cayenne together with the onion and garlic and cook for a minute or two.
Put the pheasant joints back in the pan, turn to coat in the buttery juices and pour over the stock or water.
Add the cinnamon, half the honey and a third of the coriander leaves.
Season lightly with salt and pepper (you'll be reducing the sauce later).
Bring to the boil, then cover, turn the heat down very low and cook the pheasant for 30-45 minutes or until tender. This really depends on how old and tough/young and juicy your pheasant is.
Meanwhile put the quince pieces into a saucepan with just enough water to cover.
Add the lemon rind and remaining honey and bring to the boil.
Turn down to a simmer and poach until the quince is tender.
If the quince is very ripe this may only take a couple of minutes - you want the pieces to stay whole, not collapse.
I overcooked mine, which doesn't detract from the flavour of the dish but does make it look less attractive. One day soon I'll write a post where I don't drop a clanger.
When the pheasant is cooked, remove the joints and keep them warm.
Add about 3 tbsp of the quince poaching liquid and the saffron to the pheasant juices and reduce to a thickish sauce.
Taste and adjust seasoning.
Slice the quinces if you haven't already and add to the sauce.
Put the pheasant back in the pan together with any juices that have leached out. Heat through gently.
You can see what I mean about not overcooking the quince ...
Scatter with fresh coriander and serve. It's good with couscous or this wheat pilaf, flavoured with orange zest and juice ....
Bulghur Wheat Pilaf (serves 4)
8 fl oz (240 ml) bulghur wheat
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 tbspn oil
1/4 pint/120ml veg or chicken stock
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tspn ground cumin
2 fat cloves of garlic, crushed
Grated zest of 1/2 an orange
8 fl oz (240ml) fresh orange juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Chopped fresh coriander to garnish
Heat the oil in a deep heavy pan and fry the onion until soft and just golden.
Stir in the spices and garlic and cook for a minute.
Add the bulghur and stir well to coat.
Zest half an orange over the pan.
Bring the stock to a boil with the orange juice and add to the pan and stir.
Season, cover the pan and simmer over a very low heat for about 20 minutes or until the bulghur is tender.
Fluff with a fork. Garnish with chopped fresh coriander.