Marmalade was originally made from quinces. In fact, the word ''marmelo'' is the Portuguese word for quince. Quinces are too tart to eat raw but when cooked with sugar and other aromatics they take on a beautiful flavour and perfume - a mix of apple and pear. Baked quinces are an incredibly easy dessert for a group of friends. The fruits cook slowly in the oven, leaving you free to entertain your guests. The spices in the syrup can be replaced with herbs; lemon verbena or rosemary work well.
150g white sugar
200ml white wine
1 cinnamon stick
4 black peppercorns
2 star anise
4 medium perfumed quinces
1/2 a lemon
4 tbsp maple syrup
Put the sugar, wine and water into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the cloves, cinnamon, peppercorns and star anise.
Peel and halve the quinces and rub them with lemon to prevent them from browning.
Lower the quinces into the sugar syrup and let them simmer until tender.
They may be ready in 25 minutes or perhaps take a little longer, depending on their size and ripeness. Set the oven at 180C. When the fruit is tender to the point of a knife, lift it out and place in a shallow baking dish or roasting tin.
Add the maple syrup to the cooking liquid and pour over the quinces. Bake for 30 minutes or until the fruit is very soft and tender. Serve with the cooking juices.