QUINCES STUFFED WITH GROUND MEAT (KYDONIA GEMISTA ME KIMA)

  • With the autumn still in, quinces are in eating season….   And yes, I love quinces. Despite their declining in favour in modern times, I love their fine taste, the way they go into both savory and sweet dishes. Baked, cooked or poached they reveal a devine aroma and take a beautiful deep pink color.
  • The high acidity of quinces (gr. pl. kydonia ) counteract the greasiness of the foods, so they are ideal for fatty meats. KIDONATO, a dish that involves quinces and pork, lamb or veal was common in past. It was prepared mostly by the Greeks who lived in Constantinople, it could be found all over Greece though.This particular combination of meat and fruit appears to be derived from the Persian cuisine via Ottomans. In Persia the marriage of sour fruits, such as quince, and meats is found in many traditional dishes. Also, Persians stuffed the peeled and cored quinces with meat and transformed them into dolma. It seems that the Ottomans adopted these recipes in the 15th century. The following recipe of stuffed quinces is wonderful as a first dish. It  maps a little piece of personal history too.

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In the year 1890, my grandfather left his family behind in Ottoman occupied Crete in order to study at the University of Athens. Having 2 older brothers already studing, 6 younger brothers and sisters in Crete, but not having a rich father, he soon started looking for a job. And indeed, he found the perfect job for a student. He was employed as a dog walker by the dioikitis, the chief officer of the National Bank of Greece.

Living in the house, he saw that the kitchen was the perfect place for night reading, after the cook and the servants were not rushing around to prepare meals and the sound of clattering pots and dishes had been disappeared. Besides, the cook was very fond of the boy and soon wrapped him up in the blanket of care. My grandfather could count on him to have coffe and cookies or a meze or fruits on the table, while was reading.

The daily diet of dioikitis and his family was based on traditional Greek food but the elegant banquets were based on French cuisine according to the upper class’s food fashion.  However, both categories were blended with some Eastern elements. Because the cook was French in culinary training but Constantinopolitan in origin and the dioikitis enjoyed his cooking. What a surprise for the guests to find savory stuffed quinces (kidonia gemista), a fruit dolma, on the menus of the elaborated banquets given by dioikitis!

My grandfather, for his part, encountered the novelty at the home of dioikitis and could not resist to cook it some years later, when he returned to Crete. You see, the cook had patience to teach and my grandfather was getting joy from cooking. And he did not only become brilliant with food but he also teached his children, so they all grew up in an atmosphere in which cooking is a pleasure for both males and females.

 

 QUINCES STUFFED WITH GROUND MEAT

 

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6 large quinces similar in size

400 gr ground meat (lamb or beef, or both of them)

1 tbsp rice

1 cup grape juice

100 gr. almonds, chopped and blanched

1 ½ tbsp raisins

4 tbsp butter

1 tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground cloves

salt & pepper

Wash the quinces under cold running water to rub off any fuzz and peel them. Cut off the tops and hollow out, leaving 4 cm pulp on all sides. Save tops and set the quinces aside. Brown the ground meat in 2 tbsp butter. Add 2/3 cup grape juice, rice, salt, pepper, cloves, cinnamon. Mix thoroughly. Cook until the liquid is absorbed. Let the stuffing cool and fill the fruits with it. Replace the tops and place in greased baking dish. Pour 2 tbsp melted butter over the quinces. Combine 2/3 cup water with the remaining grape juice and pour into the baking dish. Cover and place in preheated oven ( 190°C, 50-60 min.) Check to see if fruits are done. Serve them, while still warm.

UPDATE: November 16, 2008.

Here are two great quince recipes posted by two fellow bloggers:

A) Beef stew with quince (Kydonato kreas), by Food Junkie

B)Poached quince with manouri filling, by Kalofagas.

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Quince


http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/25/Quitte_Cydonia_oblonga-2.jpg/640px-Quitte_Cydonia_oblonga-2.jpg

  • The name of the first common Greek quince variety is kydonion melon, which means the apple from Kydonia. Kydonia was the principal Minoan city in the west of Crete and quince may have been indigenous to it.  The kydonion melon is mentioned in Greek poetry of 6th century BC. Strouthion melon, the second very known variety, appeared in the 4th century.
  • The Greeks dedicated the quince to Aphrodite. The godess was often represented with the golden apple of Esperides in her right hand, the fruit with which she was awarded by Paris. This legendary fuit, was in fact a quince. So, it is not accidental that the quince was regarded as symbol of Love and Fertility. Plutarch mentions the ancient wedding custom of a quince eating by the bride and the bridegroom, a custom that intended to insure fertility. (Plutarch’s Lives, Solon 20)
  • Ancient Greeks estimated the medicinal values not only of the fruit but also of its extract. In Hellenistic period, Ikesios Smyrnaios mentioned the digestive virtues of the quince extract. He also proposed that it as a perfect companion to wine and a good medicine for lethargic fever (‘About material’). The island of Cos produced a famous quince extract.
  • In past, quince was on the top of the list of fruits, because of its high natural pectin content. Byzantines  regardered it as a digestible fruit and kept on making a wine from quinces that was already mentioned in texts of 1st AD. The kydonaton, a thick quince jelly, was the serious Byzantine contribution to the quince’s subject. The name (and the preparation) of this popular preserve was probably the ancestor of French cotignac or condoignac, a high appreciated jelly of 16th and 17th century. This delicacy was considered as a gift for kings, since it was made with honey of fine quality, good wine and spices.
  • Until the end of 1960s, a meal or a visit ended with a spoon- sweet called peltes*. Although it had its origin in Byzantine kydonaton, the name  bears witness to the long Ottoman domination of Greece.  It was served in small silver bowls, surrounded by glasses of water and the guests after eating it with a spoon, used to take a sip of water and place the spoon in the glass.
  • The quince jelly is not very popular today; however, in autumn the traditional Greek households prepare grated quince spoon sweet which is served by its own or on the top of strained yogourt.
  • Quinces stuffed with nuts or rice pudding, baked in oven, are mentioned in the personal cooknotes and women’s magazines of the first decade of 20th century.
  • Burying quinces in hot ashes for most of the day and serving them hot, sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, was a rather common practice in the villages of Western Crete.
  • The high acidity of the quince counteracts the greasiness of the foods, so it is a balanced companion to fat meats. Until nowadays, Zakynthians (Ionic islands), serve the Christmas turkey or meat with mostarda dolce, a sweet mustard of medieval origin, which is made with quinces boiled in sweet wine or must.
  • Lamb, pork and fat castrated cocks are cooked or baked with quinces in several traditional recipes, although this combination is not quite in fashion today.
  • The recipes of stuffed quinces begun to appear in the big cities of Greece during the last decades of 19th century. Quinces stuffed with minced meat and/or mushrooms are mentioned in the women magazines of 1890. Some years later, pine nuts were added to the minced meat’s stuffing, impling the impact of the eating habits of Greeks who came to mainland from Asia minor in 1922, after the Greek defeat by the Turks. In fact, the combination of sour fruits, such as quinces, is traced back to ancient Iran.
  • It is very interesting that towards the close of the first decade of 20th century, smashed quinces appeared in elaborated recipes of sweet omelletes  or pastitichios with layers of mashed quinces and pieces of ham or breasts of birds.

Stuffed quinces (1919, Anna’s Kandilieri cook-notes) ‘Take whole quinces. Peel them well and cut the upper part. Dig with a small knife and fill with well pounded almonds, 1 beaten egg and some honey. Dissolve a cup of honey into water, pour it over the quinces and send them to the oven.”

*Ottoman word of Iranian origin.