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Quince Custard Tart

The quince was well known as early as the sixth century A. BC, and was prized by the Greeks, Romans and Arabs. There are many myths about the quince, many of them to do with love, marriage and fertility, and in ancient Greece the quince was substituted for an engagement ring when proposing to a betrothed; it has enjoyed an elder statesman position in the fruit kingdom ever since. Today, it is generally thought of as rare and rather special, with a unique and memorable flavour; but it is also a bit of a nuisance when it comes to cooking. Quince are hard and to get the best out of them it is necessary to cook them slowly, though there is no need to follow the instructions given to a piemaker in 1588 ? that he must 'cook the quince pie well for 6 hours'.
This tart is based on the old traditions of using quinces to make a thick and delicious sweet paste - something exported from Portugal in the late Middle Ages and the forerunner of our breakfast marmalade. Many tarts and pies in Tudor and Stuart times involved the pre-cooking of the fruit in a wine syrup, reducing down to a thickish paste and then topping with a cream custard before baking.
Once the quinces have been taken care of, this is a very easy tart to make and gives a genuine taste of Old England.

ingredients

serves 6 - 8
4 large quinces, peeled, cored and cut into quarters
350 g (12 oz) granulated sugar
juice of 1 lemon
one 750 ml (1 1/2 pint) bottle cheap red wine
1/2 teaspoon one or more of the following ground spices - nutmeg, cinnamon, mace, ginger

for the pastry and custard:

225 g (8 oz) rich sweet shortcrust pastry
1 egg, beaten, plus 4 egg yolks
1 teaspoon cornflour
425 ml (3/4 pint) double cream
2 teaspoons vanilla essence

method

1. Place all the puree ingredients in a large saucepan with 300ml (1/2 pint) water and stir to mix. Cover, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the quinces are soft, or at least tender, stirring occasionally.

2. Remove the pan from the heat and remove the quinces from the pan using a slotted spoon. Chop the quinces, then push them through a sieve.

3. Return the sieved quinces to the pan, bring to the boil and boil, uncovered, to reduce the mixture down, but be careful not to turn it into toffee or let it burn. Once it is the consistency of runny jam, turn off the heat and in cooling it will achieve the right consistency. The smell and taste is reward enough for the time spent waiting. Set aside.

4. Line a deep 23cm (9 in) tart tin with the pastry and pre-bake or bake blind.

5. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C (400°F) Gas 6.

6. To make the custard mix the egg and egg yolks with the cornflour in a bowl. Add the cream and vanilla essence and mix well.

7. Spoon the quince puree into the pre-cooked pastry case. Place the tart on a baking sheet and pour the custard mixture over the top of the quince puree. Taking care not to spill the contents, place the baking sheet and tart in the oven.

8. Bake for 30 - 35 minutes or until the custard is set.

9. Serve with thick cream.

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