Day 197. Ripe for the Picking

In february 2013 on February 25, 2013 at 9:40 pm


In front of the rain tank at the bottom of my garden is a gnarled old quince tree.

In winter, it looks on death’s door. During spring, delicate green leaves and pinky-white blossom burst from the dark limbs. By November, juvenile fruits start to form at the base of each flower,  and these slowly swell to become green/yellow and fuzzy, with a strange, subtle odour. Fortunately, the birds don’t like them much – not until they’re overripe at least.  This which means we usually get full value from the crop, as I pick them in March whilst still relatively firm.

The photo above shows the quinces as they look at the moment – I simply love their appearance, and the promise of all the stewed fruit, jellies, cakes and crumbles which shall soon be created in my kitchen.

My favourite way to cook quinces is a la Stephanie Alexander: peel, chop, throw into an enamelled cast-iron pot filled with light sugar solution/vanilla/lemon juice/lid on and then cook in a slow oven (130 degrees centigrade) for about 8 hours. At which point they emerge as glistening segments of garnet surrounded by blood-like syrup.

The red colour emerges as a class of chemical compounds called anthocyanins are converted from their colourless, astringent precursor cousins the leucoanthocyanins during cooking.

Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen says it best,

The combination of heat and acidity causes the subunits [of the precursor molecules] to break off one by one; and then oxygen from the air reacts with the subunits to form true anthrocyanins: so the tannic, pale fruits become more gentle-tasting and anything from pale pink to deep red.

The final colour depends on the pH (acidity) of the cooking fluid.

Anthocyanins are also what make blueberries blue, red cabbage red, blackberries black, eggplants purple and blood oranges bloody. According to some experts, we may get cardiovascular benefits or even cancer protection from eating more anthocyanins.

  1. […] varieties are now going to seed (‘Italian’ and ‘Asian’, shown above), the quinces are nearly ready to pick, I hold high hopes for a singleton pumpkin and a new crop of figs ripens each […]

  2. […] If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that anthocyanins are the reason behind the colour change (see Day 197. Ripe for the Picking). […]

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