Taste the autumn jewels of Persia


Taste the autumn jewels of Persia

EMILIA SMUTS teaches us how to easily pit pomegranates, stew quinces and serve a delicious salad or stew with these ‘old-fashioned' fruits.


THE other afternoon I came across a basket of quinces in a supermarket in the city centre. I felt like asking with Leipoldt: “What are you doing here?" 

For the few minutes I was busy around there, not a soul took notice of the fluffy yellow-green pile. The same applied to the pomegranates on display, which people ignored to buy an expensive tub of flaccid seeds.

Maybe it's just because pomegranates and quinces are seen as old-fashioned fruits and take time to prepare. Pomegranates have to be shelled, of course — sounds like a chore, and doesn't it stain your hands? And fresh quinces are hard and slightly sour. But in both cases the effort is relatively small compared to the delights with which you are rewarded.

Because stewed quince is incredibly versatile. Eat it with yoghurt for breakfast, with venison pie or pork loin, with lentils in salad or with mascarpone for dessert.

If you don't want to just polish off the pomegranate seeds, the rubies of Persia, you can put them in a shake, sprinkle them over a salad for colour and flavour, put them in more or less every imaginable meat dish or even use them in soups.

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More than a match for pomegranate pips

But isn't it a hell of a hassle to extract  the seeds? No. Easiest is to cut the pomegranate on its equator (despite Dad Swepie insisting it's sacrilegious), hold it in your non-dominant hand over a bowl with the skin facing upwards then hit it hard and continuously with a wooden spoon until you've got all the seeds out — a process with untold health benefits, which won't take you more than a minute. Really not.

More contemplative is to cut off a round disk at the stem and flower sides,  then make four thin slices through the peel all the way around, like you would cut an orange to peel it. Now you break it open, admire the treasure chest in front of you and shell it out in a mixing bowl with water. The water prevents your hands from staining and makes it easier to loosen the seeds and get rid of the membranes, because they float on top of the water.

Now set aside a bowl full of seeds for the lentil salad in the recipe below. Place the rest of the seeds in a food processor or juicer and spin them around for a few seconds to break the meat around the seeds (which — botanical factoid of the day — is also called “aril", for reasons that escape me now). Or squeeze juice from cut halves of fruit with an orange juicer. Strain the juice into a mug and drink the most delicious superfood there is. Set aside a cup full of juice for the stewed quinces. Now that I think about it, maybe you should buy two pomegranates instead.

How to stew quinces

Mum liked to bake quinces in the Aga stove. Slowly, so that the whole house smelled of quinces afterwards. They can also be cooked:



  • 3-4 quinces 
  • spices to taste: 1 cinnamon stick, 2 star anise, 5-6 cardamom pods, 5-6 cloves
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1-c water (or half water and half pomegranate juice)
  • ½-1 c sugar 


Cut the fruit in half and each half into thickish slices then place them in a pot. Add a piece of cinnamon stick or star anise and pour over the water and lemon juice. Sprinkle the sugar over, put the lid on and simmer gently for at least 1½ hours in the oven (140 °C) or on low heat on top of the stove. The longer it stews, the more beautiful the colour becomes.

The quince slices with their syrup keep well in the fridge, but remove the spices first because their flavour can become overpowering over time.

Lentil salad with quinces, blue cheese and pomegranate seeds



  • 250 g lentils
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 4 tbsp good olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 large handful of parsley, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste


First make a regular lentil salad: cook the lentils with the bay leaf and salt for about 15 minutes until they are soft but still whole, then drain. Mix the remaining ingredients (except the parsley) and pour them over the hot lentils. Let it cool slightly then stir in the parsley.

To give the salad a real autumn flavour, crown it with the following:

  • a few slices of stewed quinces, diced
  • 100 g creamy blue cheese
  • handful of walnuts
  • 2 celery sticks, thinly sliced
  • green leaves
  • handful of fresh pomegranate seeds

Persian quince stew

I grew up with a quince stew made from lamb. There are many recipes for it but I like this Persian one (quinces come from Persia, after all), which I adapted for hurried cooks. But you'll have to sacrifice some of your precious stewed quinces for this if you want to make it for dinner on a weekday:



  • olive oil
  • 1 kg beef, cut into cubes or strips
  • 2 medium onions
  • 1 tin tomato puree
  • 3 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 5 peppercorns, 3 pimento corns
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 c pomegranate juice


Heat a heavy bottom pot until blazing hot and add a drizzle of olive oil. Brown the meat all around — in two or three batches if necessary. Turn off the heat, put the meat back in the pot, add the onions and fry for 5 minutes until the onions are soft. Add the tomato puree, herbs and spices. Add the pomegranate juice and enough water to cover the meat and simmer for an hour or until the meat is tender. (You can also do this in advance up to here).

Now cut up enough quince slices and put them in the pot. Taste and add some syrup if you like. Let the stew simmer for a while. Serve with rice or mashed potatoes.

Something to remember:

Fresh quinces and pomegranates freeze well for a month or three.

Peel the quinces (optional), cut them into wedges, remove the stems  then rinse them in fresh water with a good squeeze of lemon juice. If you are in a hurry, you can just wash the quinces well, cut them into halves or slices and freeze them just like that.

Shell the pomegranates and spread the seeds on a baking sheet. Freeze until hard, then pour into a container and store in the freezer. The thawed seeds are not quite as pretty as fresh ones but are handy for juicing and such.

Quince trees can become old — older than most people — so it's good to treat them with due respect when you come across them. The best quince for canning and jelly is Cape Selected, with white, creamy flesh and a high pectin content. According to Leipoldt, the cultivar Borrie (a turmeric quince, Dude) is best suited for stews. Its flesh is yellow and the taste aromatic. The best quince for desserts is Orange. But good luck trying to track down these heritage cultivars.

♦ VWB ♦

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