We grew up in a home where certain times, certain events, and certain foods needed to be accompanied by certain special things. So, when guests came over, we put out special bathroom towels. When our parents’ made vegetable speckled rice, it was served in a special soup tureen (don’t judge). During the holidays, the furniture and appliances were covered with festive doilies and cloths (versus the rest of the time, when they were covered with everyday doilies and cloths). And when spoon sweets were served, it was always on little glass plates.
Spoon sweets were a staple growing up. Every Greek family we knew, including ours, seemed to have jars and jars of sweet, syrupy dessert ready and waiting; perfect for unexpected guests, and for satisfying a craving for something sweet. In Greek, this class of dessert is called γλυκό του κουταλιού (Glyko tou koutaliou) which translates into spoon sweet…because you eat it with a spoon, preferably off of a pretty, glass plate.
It was years before we realized that not every culture is familiar with spoon sweets. Our childhood, non-Greek friends would politely (usually) refuse, when offered a glyko (sweet) made of eggplant or figs, popular choices in our family. When we think back, we suppose that these desserts may have sounded odd (and gross) to kids who would have been more used to peanut butter cookies and apple pie. At the time however, wishing to have our friends taste the sweetness we were so fond of, we would say, “Okay, not the eggplant glyko…but how about our absolute favourite…this one, made with quince.” For some reason, quince didn’t have them say yes.
It had been years since our parents made any version of γλυκό του κουταλιού (Glyko tou koutaliou), and years since we had eaten this lovely dessert. When we recently (two days ago) asked our parents to make this recipe with us, they remembered exactly how to prepare it. There was no hesitation, no wondering about the amount of sugar to use, or how long to cook the quince. They just set to the task, and a few hours later they pulled out a little glass plate and offered us some to taste. We knew that this recipe was perfect, because as our spoon hit the glass, and the quince touched our lips, we were children again.
Quince is a pome fruit that closely resembles pears and apples; no coincidence since all three come from the same botanical family. Quince was first cultivated in the Middle East and some theologian scholars actually posit that the apple eaten by Adam and Eve was, in fact, a quince. Perhaps, but it likely wouldn’t have tasted very good; most varieties of quince are too hard, astringent and sour to be eaten raw. Cooking quince will not only make it edible, but it will also cause it to turn a lovely red colour, in contrast to the pale (or white) colour of the fruit in it’s uncooked state.
Quince are ripe, and ready to be used, when the outer peel is a yellow colour, and there is little, to no fuzz on the surface. Even when ripe, the peel is hard and not edible. The core as well is quite tough, and the seeds, if eaten in very large quantities, are poisonous. Sounds great doesn’t it?! No worries, a sharp paring knife is all you need to separate the fruit flesh from the peel, core and seeds. It is worth the effort (which isn’t really that much effort) because quince is absolutely delicious, and has a good amount of Vitamin C.
Although modern Greeks love to use quince in desserts and even savoury dishes, the ancient Greeks considered it to be the fruit of love, marriage and fertility. The fruit was regularly offered as a gift to the bride, so that it would sweeten her breath before she entered the bridal chamber with her new husband. One would hope that the husband got to eat some too.
In the recipe which follows, we suggest that you combine the prepared quince with the sugar and let it sit for several hours before cooking it. This is going to allow the quince to develop a lovely colour as it comes into contact with the air. It is not necessary however, and if you are pressed for time, the quince and sugar can be cooked soon after they are combined.
The almonds are a great element to this spoon sweet. Although you can certainly purchase unpeeled almonds, in the recipe we instruct you on how to remove the skins yourself. It is beyond easy, and much cheaper, to do it this way.
Spoon sweets are a great example of a little goes a long way. This is a very sweet dessert, therefore, you do not need much to satisfy your palate; a few small spoonfuls is usually all you need. You can also try this quince spoon sweet on a bit of Greek yogourt, or even some vanilla ice cream. Delicious!
Christmas is coming, and if you are someone who likes to offer homemade gifts, this spoon sweet is a perfect option. Because it is so easy to prepare, you can certainly double or triple the recipe and make several individual gifts. You can make your present as fancy as you like, by using pretty jars and decorating them festively. Quince is usually available in the fall, making the timing perfect for holiday gift giving. As well, because quince is somewhat uncommon, your gift will be delicious, and unique!
Mia Kouppa: Quince spoon sweet
- 3 cups (750 ml) quince, peeled and cut into chunks (approximately 2 medium sized quince)
- 2 cups (500 ml) granulated white sugar
- 1/3 cup (80 ml) whole almonds
- 1 teaspoon (4 ml) ground cinnamon
- Peel the quince and cut it into wedges (avoiding the hard core and seeds), which are about 1 centimeter thick. Cut each wedge into half. Add the sugar to the quince, and set aside. You can choose to set this aside for several hours, or even overnight. Doing so will result in the quince changing colour and turning slightly pink. It is not a necessary step however.
- Prepare your almonds. If the almonds still have skin on them, place them in a small saucepan of water and bring to a boil. Boil for about 2 – 3 minutes. Rinse your almonds under cold water. When they are cool enough to handle, slip the skins right off. Then, with a sharp paring knife, very carefully, split the almonds in two. This should happen relatively easily.
- In a saucepan, add the quince and sugar combination (and any liquid which may have been released from the fruit) and cook, uncovered, over medium heat. Add the cinnamon and mix well. Stir regularly. Cook over medium heat for approximately 10 minutes. Add the almonds. Stir well, and continue to cook over medium heat for another 10 to 15 minutes. The quince should be soft, but not mushy.
- Using a slotted spoon, remove the quince and almonds from the pot. Continue cooking the syrup for another 5 minutes. The syrup should become quite thick, and almost candy-like. You know that it is ready when you dip a spoon into the syrup, lift if up, and it does not easily drip off the spoon. It should be quite sticky at this point.
- Remove the pot from heat and pour the sticky syrup over the quince and almonds. Allow to sit. The syrup will become more liquid and fluid as it rests. Divide evenly into jars. Enjoy.