What is Quince?
With a fragrance that hints of vanilla, musk, pineabpple and lemon blossom, quince deserves a little culinary exploration. Their season is short, usually only available from October to December, so don’t miss them. Most quinces are dry, sour and astringent and must be cooked before eating. But this member of the rose family turns a rosy red when slowly cooked and has and amazing fragrance that will turn your head.
The Greeks called all new fruits apples, using the source of the fruit to distinguish them. Quinces were apples of Cydonia, because that was where the best quinces grew. The town Cydonia, on the north coast of Crete, is now named Khania and still produces magnificent quinces.
Originally from Persia and the Caucasus where wild quinces still grow today, thy have been cultivated in the Western world longer than the apple. Scholars suggest that many apples in literature were probably quinces, from the most famous apple of all — the forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden — to the apples that comfort in the Song of Solomon. Those “golden apples” that Atalanta found so captivating? They were quinces. And Paris’s present to mighty Aphrodite? Quince again, a gesture forever typecasting the fruit as a symbol of love and fertility. That’s why the ancient Greeks used to toss fresh quinces into bridal chariots. The Greek bride would nibble a quince to perfume her kiss before entering the bridal chamber. No doubt this is why Edward Lear, who lived in Greece for years, described his honeymooning Owl and Pussycat as dining on the fruit.
When ripe, its flesh turns from green to golden yellow and its fuzzy covering (similar to a peach) rubs off, revealing smooth, waxy skin that has an intoxicating perfumey scent. Once cooked, the tart white flesh turns a rosy pink.
Quince is truly paradoxical in nature – most fruit is ideal when fresh but quince needs a little bit of cooking time and sugar to highlight its tastiest qualities — the flesh is generally too hard and astringent to eat raw.
To keep it from oxidizing, it should be sprinkled with lemon juice or cooked immediately. Known for its high pectin content, quince has traditionally been used to make jam and jellies. In fact, the word “marmalade” comes from the Portuguese “marmelada”, which means “quince preserves”. It is the fruit’s seeds that contain a large amount of pectin and these were used to make the first hairsprays. Cooked quince may also accompany meat, cheese or ice cream. It can supplement fruit pies for texture and tartness, or can be poached and served with whipped cream.
Tips for Buying and Using Quince
- Select fruits that are heavy, firm and intact, with very yellow skin. Marks on the skin indicate that the fruit is very ripe and are of little importance since they will be cooked immediately. However, avoid quinces that are hard or very green, which indicates that they are not ripe.
- Cooking does not alter the fruit’s texture and shape. Prepare peeled and cored, as you would an apple.
- Can be used to make jam, jellies, compotes, syrup, and even wine.
- They pair well with apples, pears, strawberries and raspberries. They can be used to make candies or to flavour juices and drinks.
- In Eastern Europe, Near-East and North Africa, quince is often used to prepare meat and poultry. A compote will enhance the flavour of a great many casseroles.
Storage of Quince
If need be, let them ripen at room temperature. To keep them for a few weeks in optimal condition when ripe, wrap separately and refrigerate. Quinces are difficult to freeze fresh but they keep well once cooked and pureed, with or without sugar.
A good source of potassium and contains vitamin C and copper. Astringent and aperient, it is traditionally regarded as beneficial in relieving gastro-intestinal discomfort.
Quince paste is a red to orange-colored jam has a sweet taste and a slightly floral flavor, and it is extremely popular in Southern Europe and the Middle East. In Spain, where quince paste is known as dulce de membrillo, it is almost more like a jelly, thanks to the high pectin content, which is caused by using whole fruits, rather than fruits without seeds and pith. In Spain, quince paste and Manchego cheese is a very popular snack, with some people considering it the national dish of Spain, although a number of delicacies vie for this honor. To make the paste, cooks loosely chop quince fruits and boil them in water until they soften. Then, sugar and lemon juice are added and the mixture is pulped. The procedure is akin to that used to make applesauce or apple butter, with the goal being a smooth, even-textured paste (see recipe below).
Top 10 Recipes using Quince
- Recipe for Quince Paste (membrillo)
- Recipe for Spiced Quince Preserve
- Recipe for Manchego Quince Skewers
- Lamb Tagine with Quince and Okra
- Poached Quinces in Red Wine
- Poached Quinces in White Wine
- Quince tarte Tatin
- Lamb Chops with Poached Quince and Balsamic Pan Sauce
- Quince, Ginger, and Pecan Conserve
- Apple and Quince Tart with Honey and Hazelnut Crème Fraiche
Image by Helga Kattinger from Pixabay