Quince: The Golden Apple

Quince

“What is that? It looks really weird. What the heck do you do with it?”

This is a pretty typical starter to a long conversation when someone notices this rather odd looking fruit in our produce section.  It could be a pear, it could be an apple, and sometimes, it even has a fuzz like a peach…but it’s bright yellow.

Like an irregularly shaped, fuzzily smooth skinned, lemon-colored pear.

Oh, boy.

The quince is closely related to apples, pears, and even distantly, roses.  I don’t think that there’s a fruit that throughout the year that I anticipate quite so eagerly.  I always wonder, is this the year when we figure them out? And by figure out, I mean, rediscover: quince have been used for many centuries all over the world, we just don’t tend to have a working knowledge of them now.

They smell wonderful, so you get an idea that they have to taste good somehow…but the biggest mistake you can make is to just eat one.  They are super dense, the skin is kind of naturally waxy, and they don’t taste good.  AT ALL.  So why would you want them?

When you get past peeling the fuzzy waxy skin and hacking apart the dense and yellowy flesh, you get a wonderfully complex and unusual ingredient that pies and jams basically were invented for. Not actually, but they are naturally high in pectin, and so perfect for those things.  The leftover peels and cores from making paste couldn’t be better for setting jams, lending another layer of flavor to the sweetness.  Then you absolutely must cook them, and the flavor becomes tart and somewhat sharp, so it combines well with vanilla and spices like clove and cinnamon, and naturally compliments almost any other (sweeter) fruit.

I think the loveliest and most surprising thing about quince is that when cooked with sugar, the fruit turns a gorgeous deep pink or deep rose color. It’s worth a try if you’re in the mood for some show-stopping roasted quince sorbet, or unbelievably beautiful poached fruit.  The tannins that make the fruit so unpalatable when raw work with sugar in the cooking process to create red pigments, which happen to be the same pigments that are in red wine (anthocyanins if you want to get technical).  The tannins in quince also work to tenderize meat in stews, so they are quite commonly used that way.

Historically, I’m convinced that quince don’t quite get their due.  The famous “golden apples” of Ancient Greece, the fateful Apple of Eden, and the fruit featured in the lost art of Pompeii, are quite debatably quince, and not apples at all.  There’s evidence to suggest that apples just wouldn’t have been there, that it was too early for them to be on the scene, as it were.

But quince still haven’t quite gotten the credit they deserve, though they definitely have earned a chance at dessert this year.  And anyway, there’s always time to reclaim their seat at the table.

“Listen! The wind is rising, and the air is wild with leaves,
We have had our summer evenings, now for October eves!”
– Humbert Wolfe