Tag Archive for: Fruit

Alphonso mangoes are not lookers. Even the most mottled quince would win a beauty contest with them and the furry bloom of an in-season peach is infinitely more Instagrammable. But all is forgiven once you squeeze the exotic, saffron-coloured pulp out of the yellow skin, the ripe smell almost coconutty, a reminder of the South of India, whence they sprung. Think flavours of honey, melon, nectarine and apricot gone up a notch.

They are named after 15th century general Alfonso de Albuquerque, aka ‘Alfonso the Terrible’, conqueror of Goa. The Portuguese invaders brought to India from the New World red chillies, potatoes, maize, and tomatoes. In return the Sub-continent offered up its native mangoes. Apparently Alfonso (below) was very hands-on in creating a firmer, juicer variant of the fruit for export to Europe. Hard grafting, but what a result. 

Today there are several different varieties of Alphonso mangoes, primarily grown along the western coastal strip of Konkan. The acknowledged superstars are hand-harvested in the tiny Natwarlal plantation of Ratnagiri in Maharashtra. 

OK, every corner of India offers rivals – Badami, Himsagar, Kesar, Chaunsa, Dasheri – but the spring season mango rush is dominated by the Alphonso. Mumbai and other big cities even hold mango festivals. I hold my own. Alas, the season is as short as their shelf life once they arrive, so once again I sliced open a coulpe and guzzled, the juice dripping into my beard, before organising the rest to make a vat of sorbet (De-stone and extract the flesh from six to eight ripe mangoes, combine with the juice of two limes,100g icing sugar and 100ml double cream. Churn the puree in an ice cream maker for half an hour).

I get my annual fix from London-based Red Rickshaw, who specialise in sourcing hard-to find ingredients, primarily from India but also from across the globe. It’s hard to resist exploring their site, which always yields new fruit. Literally. So that’s how I stumbled upon Buddha’s Fingers (or Buddha’s Hand, main picture). This odd ancestor of our mainstream citrus fruits resembles a large lemon with finger-like segments growing from it. True to its name, it is considered a religious offering in Buddhist temples, typically given as a  New Year’s gift, symbolising good fortune.

It is still hanging in the balance whether I’m prepared to stump up £24.99 for a single specimen of a citrus fruit that seldom contains any tangible fruit, flesh or juice. Will it be worth it just to employ its formidable citrus fragrance for cocktails, candy making or salad dressings?

While I’m ‘hanging on by my finger tips’ to make a decision it’s time to prepare a Mango, Lime and Rum Syllabub, the recipe borrowed from Sunshine On A Plate (Penguin, £30), the gorgeous cookbook from Shelina Permalloo, 2012 Masterchef winner, who runs the Lakaz Maman Mauritian Street Kitchen in Southampton.


4 ginger biscuits, crushed; 300ml double cream; ½ vanilla pod, seeds scraped; 3tbsp unrefined icing sugar; 75ml rum, plus 4tsp; zest and juice of 4 limes; 150ml Alphonso mango puree; 2 Alphonso mangoes, peeled and cut into 2.5cm cubes; desiccated coconut and reservd lime zest plus optional mint leaves to decorate.  


Put the ginger biscuits into a large plastic bag and bash vigorously with a rolling pin until you have a bag of crumbs. Using an electric whisk, lightly whip the double cream. Add the vanilla seeds, icing sugar, the 75ml of rum, lime juice and zest, reserving a little for decoration. Keep whisking until it forms light peaks. Add about one third of the mango purée and half the cubed mango and fold through for a marbled effect. T

o assemble the syllabubs, divide the crumbs between four glasses. Sprinkle a teaspoon of rum over each and top with the rest of the mango purée. Spoon the cream over the top. Just before serving, sprinkle with coconut and lime zest. Decorate with the mint leaves, if using.

Bizarre though it may seem, when you next order a slab of membrillo to partner your Manchego at a tapas joint you are actually tapping into an English culinary wellspring that dates back to Tudor times and before.

Quince paste, which we associate with the Spanish kitchen (there’s also a French version called cotignac) was once commonplace and highly prized. Even as late as 1845 Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery is offering us a recipe for quince blancmange with almond cream.

But the quince fell out of fashion compared with its kin, the apple and the pear. Not helped by any image problem. So many varieties were merely ornamental with fruit too small to make use of. There’s one such in our garden.

Nowadays this glorious seasonal fruit is definitely undergoing a foodie resurgence.

The best place to find them affordably is a Middle-Eastern grocers. My first batch of the autumn was bought from a little shop around the corner from Levenshulme Station in Manchester. A quid each for some magnificent specimens. Yellow and downy, their scent permeated the train carriage on the way home.

Quinces are believed to have been the ‘Golden Apples’ stole from the Hesperides in the Greek myth, sacred to Venus (they are a backdrop to Venus and Mars in a section of Mantegna’s Parnassus), but it won’t be love at first bite. So resist the temptation to bite into your prized fruit, which has been picked slightly unripe; raw, it will prove hard, almost gritty and raspingly sour.

You will have to make plans for them, all of which will involve stewing of some kind or baking with sugar or honey. As it cooks it turns from yellow to a “cornelian pink’. A little will go a long way as in aromatically enhancing an apple crumble along with cloves and cinnamon, say. 

Moroccan tagines and any number of long simmered Persian lamb dishes will welcome the sweet/sour vigour a quince contributes (make sure you core and de-pip them thoroughly, though). Below is a dish I made with part of my haul – chicken with caramelised quinces from the great Claudia Roden’s Arabesque.

If this sounds on the exotic side let’s trace back to quince as the quintessentially English fruit via a historical cookbook I treasure – Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book. Published in 1986, it was a side project and obvious labour of love for Hilary Spurling, biographer of Matisse and Ivy Compton-Burnett. Her husband, the playwright John Spurling inherited the original handwritten book, inscribed ‘Lady Elinor Fettiplace, 1604’. 

From this stout tome, bound in leather and stamped in gold with endpapers made from scraps of medieval Latin manuscript, Hilary extracted 200 recipes that reflect the month by month workings of the kitchen at the Fettiplace home, Appleton Manor in Oxfordshire.

Elinor calls her quince paste quince marmalade but don’t let that fool you. The word derives from Portuguese marmelada, meaning ‘quince cheese’ or ‘quince jam’). The Seville orange version was the eventual breakfast table usurper. 

Boxes of quince marmalade had been the medieval wedding present of choice and, according to Hilary, “they remained a luxury gift for anyone from royalty downwards until well into the 17th century”. They commonly came in brick shapes – shades of membrillo.

So what is Mistress Fettiplace’s timeless recipe for membrillo? It is one of 15 she provides for this fruit, twice as much as for any other. 

Take your quinces and rost them, then take the best of the meat of them & way to every pound of it, a pound of sugar & beat it together in a mortar, & boyle it till it be so thick that it com from the posnet, then mould it & print it, & dry it before the fire.

Hilary Spurling interprets it (I’m paraphrasing) as first wipe the quinces with a cloth but don’t peel. Bake them, preferably in an earthenware pot for an hour or two until they are soft but not collapsed. Cool, cut up and core. Sieve the pulp and mix with an equal weight of white sugar. A posnet is a three-footed metal cooking pot; any thick-bottomed pan will do instead. Bring slowly to boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Gently cook for a further hour or two until the mixture begins to candy and leave the pan sides. Ladle it out into patterned moulds or in a half inch layer on a flat oiled tin. Dry in a warm place until the paste is firm. Wrap in greaseproof paper for storage.

Serve with Cheddar or Stilton since we have reclaimed quince paste for England. Better still a Rachel (goat) or Berkswell (sheep) unpasteurised farmhouse cheese.