Reaching Turkey last April, after two months of meandering through France, Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria to get there, was cause for celebration. So we scoured guide books to find a suitably smart restaurant in the old quarter of İstanbul, where we had just managed to navigate our chunky Land Rover through minuscule cobbled streets packed with pedestrians.
Balıkçı Sabahattin, a fish restaurant frequented by wealthy locals, proved perfect. The fish börek, marinated bass and scorpion fish soup were delicious, but the highlight came after – ayva tatlısı – half a quince, candied to a translucent deep crimson, topped with the thickest, lushest cream imaginable and ground walnuts, and surrounded by a moat of spicy syrup. It was divine, and thankfully cropped up again several times on our journey through Turkey. The cream turned out to be kaymak – clotted cream made from buffalo milk.
Many people poach the quince in a syrup on the hob. But I learnt a slow-roasted method from Őzge Samancı, a food historian in İstanbul we were lucky enough to meet. If you roast them for an hour they will be perfectly tender and delicious, but still yellow. If you continue another couple, they will turn a beautiful pink. And I’ve found that if you continue another three or so after that, they will almost candy themselves and reach the desired depth of colour. If you can’t get buffalo clotted cream, cow’s will of course do, as will any thick cream or yoghurt.
There is a recipe for roast quince in “Gather Cook Feast” (Fig Tree 2017).