Compote de Coings: Quince Compote
Perhaps it seems odd to discuss quince, known as le coing in French, during the month of February. However, beautiful quince flowers appear this month in the southeastern United States, bringing a much needed dose of bright color to the remaining days of winter.
Although quince fruits have been common in areas such as southern France, they have been slower to gain popularity in North America. They are difficult to grow in cold climates such as Québec, but records indicate some of the first settlers, namely the convents, received gifts of Cotignac from France. Cotignac is a jam made with quince fruits, and it is still made today utilizing traditional techniques and equipment such as copper pots.
Despite the lack of quince trees in Québec, they have been referenced in historical books about the cold region of New England, appearing in small quantities in the gardens and orchards of early colonists. Some sources credit the French Huguenots for introducing quinces to North America. Due to quince's preference for warmer weather, this fruit can still be found growing in southern states from Virginia to Louisiana and beyond. Even more popular is the flowering quince, a smaller fruit historically used as ornamental trees. The photo above shows a bloom from a flowering quince tree in Virginia. Some recipes allow for the smaller fruit to be used, but if you are lucky enough to find quince in a grocery store, it is more likely to come from the larger variety geared more toward culinary purposes.
Recipes for les coings appear in an 1825 cookbook, La Cuisinière Bourgeoise. This cookbook was written in Paris, but it was sold in Québec before any cookbooks were created solely for the relatively new colony in North America. As a result, some of the ingredients in this cookbook could be obtained more easily in France than Québec. Hence the inclusion of recipes such as Sirop de Coings, Marmelade de Coings, and Ratafia de Coings. Today, let's look at an easy one, Compote de Coings. As always, we will begin with the original French version, followed by an English translation.
Compote de Coings
Prenez trois gros coings; mettez-les dans l'eau bouillante pour les faire cuire jusqu'a ce qu'ils soient tendres sons les doigts vous les mettrez après dans de l'eau froid, coupez-les en quatre; lorsque vous aurez ôté les cœurs et les aurez pelés proprement, vous mettrez un quarteron de sucre dans une poêle et un demi-verre d'eau; faites bouillir et écumer, mettez-y les coings pour finir de les cuire, et servez à court sirop.
Take three large quinces; put them in boiling water to cook until they are tender, (and) then with your fingers, you will put them in cold water, cut them into quarters; when you have removed the hearts and peeled them clean, you will put in a quarter of a pound of sugar in a pan and half a glass of water; boil and skim, put in the quinces to finish cooking them, and serve in a bit of syrup.
I do not have a photo of large quinces. As a matter of fact, I only have photos of the blooms (as seen above) of the smaller variety. Perhaps this year, I will take a photo of the ripe fruit. A few years ago, I kept my eye on a young quince, but it was removed from the tree before changing its shape and turning a nice golden-yellow. Rather fittingly, the lack of a picture is appropriate, because when this cookbook was printed in 1825, most people in Québec may not have seen a quince tree, either!