When 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.
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.