We’re deep into the fall season, and one of my favorite fruits is showing up at farmers’ markets and grocery stores. The humble quince, rock-hard and lumpy (and sometimes furry), may not be a contender for any produce-aisle beauty contests. But pick one up and snuffle its luscious fragrance, and you’ll understand the mystique it has held for generations of good cooks.
This intriguing, sunny yellow fruit was traditionally prized as a staple canning item because of its high pectin content, which makes the quince perfect for naturally jelled jams, marmalades and jellies. (In fact, the word “marmalade” comes from marmelo, the Portuguese word for quince.)
Extremely astringent when raw, the quince’s coarse, dry, ivory- colored flesh is fantastically transformed during cooking. The result is a tender fruit, light rosy pink to rich carnelian in color, with a delicate, perfumed scent.
Quinces can be poached (my favorite method), baked, and stewed. They partner beautifully with pears and apples in purees, tarts, cobblers, pies and mixed fruit compotes. Try stuffing a chicken with some sliced quinces before braising it in a casserole, or serve warm, freshly-roasted quinces with vanilla ice cream.
For some great information about quinces, and an excellent poaching recipe, check out pastry chef David Lebovitz’ blog on the “Rosy Poached Quince.”
(Note: When harvested, the fruit has a sticky fuzz on its skin, which is normally removed before the fruit reaches the grocery store. If it hasn’t been, just rub it off before preparing the fruit).