October 17, 2005
Conquering Quince

quince.jpgWhen is the last time you tried a completely new food? New dishes, yes, I've had some in the last ten years. I've even tried a few new spices. But last week was the first time since 1987 (Year of the Failed Qumquat Experiment and Year I Discovered Lychee) that I tried a new fruit. Quince has been dodging in and out of my radar range for the last few years. I got the impression that quince jam was a particularly British thing and asked the Critic. I got a vague answer indicating that he wasn't sure he'd ever had it either but wasn't going to admit it.

A couple of weeks ago I saw a sign in the supermarket "COING (France)". And for once I remembered, coing (pronounced cwang) = quinces. And so I took the plunge and purchased two of them. They sat in a plastic bag in my kitchen for at least a week. My Fannie Farmer Cookbook had very little useful information. NOTHING about how to prepare them for cooking. NOTHING about the fact that you can't eat them raw. One recipe for baked quince. Hmph.

Luckily for me, David Lebovitz knows quince. And he chose to write about them not long after I bought them. Salvation!

David mentioned the tangy scent of quince in the kitchen and I was initially worried about my fruit as there was no particular smell lingering there. Had my nose gone coarse and unreceptive? But no, the plastic bag was the culprit. As soon as I tore it open, a beautiful scent did float around the kitchen. It's hard to describe something new to your sense. Sweet, fresh, fruity...but not pear or plum. I think the shampoo marketers are missing out on an opportunity, actually. It was lovely.

I was nervous after reading David's caution about slicing quince. It turned out he was right, and I was right to be nervous: they are a real challenge. Tough as a pumpkin, but deceptively pear-looking. The first knife I tried was sturdy enough but not sharp enough. The second was sharp, but a bit flimsy. I sharpened the stout knife and laboured on, carefully. Look back at the photo at the beginning of this post: can you see how lumpy they are?? I'm sure I didn't get as much of the meat out of the quinces as I could have done; I was too afraid of losing a digit in the process.

When I think of quince, I tend to think of fragile old ladies making quince jam. It must be a selection of the fittest situation that allows the most nimble-fingered to live to the age of 75, still making quince jam.

Eventually, I managed to hack the quince into chunks about two inches long, one inch wide and half an inch thick. I poached them in sugar and water with a bit of vanilla, as directed by David. Here's how it looked to start - a pan of pear-like fruit.

And here's how it looked after an amazingly long hour and 15 minutes: pretty in pink, delicate as the first blush of day. (I have a 10 month baby. I know ALL about the first blush of day.)

And they were nice. They have the woodiness of an unripe pear or a turnip, but the sweetness of fruit. They are an appealing pink color. However. They are a lot of work at the end of the day. I might revisit them one day, but not soon.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at October 17, 2005 11:19 AM | TrackBack Print-friendly version

I lived in a house in California with a quince out back. The secret to using them was to wait for the fruit to ripen on the bush, or shrub. or tree, it is a bit of a weird plant, until the fruit is yellow and beyond, almost rotten looking. Cooked with a bit of fresh marjoram and some sugar and honey, it was an admirable fruit dessert
We also used the younger fruit for jams. A big cleaver I bought at a chinese market made the job of cutting easy. Of course, everyone stood back while I wacked them apart. Theater and nutrition, what more can one ask of food?

Posted by DaveA on October 18, 2005 at 2:42 AM

Quinces used to be a big thing back in the eighteenth century here in the US. There are a few older quince trees around, but few gardeners put them in anymore.

I must confess to never having had one, but I would like to try one. A friend of mine used to have one in his yard and his Mom made quince jelly and stewed quinces from the fruit, but it blew down in a storm, and died years before I came on the scene.

So, I will stick to the mulberries and pawpaws in my yard, and maybe, maybe plant a quince tree or two when we terrace.

Though, I am more likely to plant cherry and apple trees, to be honest.

Posted by Barbara on October 18, 2005 at 7:55 AM

hi Meg, kudos to you for trying something new, its always a good feeling. I've never had quince myself but now Im intrigued.. I have a cookbook in storage that had a recipe for chicken with quince which always appealed to me but I could never find quince anywhere at the time. Now, of course, there's quince, but no cookbook.. its always the way, isnt it!

Posted by michele on October 18, 2005 at 9:44 AM

Meg, Glad your quince turned out so nice! If the quince are yellow and ripe, they're easier to peel. You'll find as the season progresses, it's common to find them already ripe, or close to it, when you buy them. I bought 5 today that were a brilliant yellow with the most amazing fragrance; I almost hated to cook them. But I did.

Posted by David on October 18, 2005 at 3:59 PM

Here's my quince secret: Preheat oven to 350. Scrub quinces and pat them dry; then bake them in a small roasting pan, covered with foil for about two hours (until they are tender). When they are cool enough to handle, peel, quarter and core them with a sharp knife.
When you have your quince to this stage you can use them in any way all my fellow quince lovers have mentioned above.

Posted by Lianne on October 18, 2005 at 4:59 PM

Don't be shy with Quince. I prepare it as posted by Linda by baking it in a small covered roasting pan for 2 hours, then peel, quarter and slice into 1/4" slices. Ah, but then I simmer the slices of Quince in a mixture of honey (enough to cover the Quince), 1-2 tablespoon of lemon juice, 1/2 tablespoon of orange peel and a tablespoon of butter (optional) for all of 15 minutes. Allow it to cool to be used as a jam or fruit additive to plain yogurt or use it as a hot topping over vanilla ice cream. Positively scrumptous.

Posted by Karon von Gerhke on July 29, 2006 at 5:30 PM

I, too, love quince and make a firm jelly or paste every fall by cooking quince down with a little sugar and then spreading on glass plates to cool.
My question is how best to store the quince paste. I store it between parchment paper in a covered jar. Is there a better way?

Posted by Gabrielle on October 7, 2006 at 8:13 AM
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