Crazy for Quinces

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Quinces have been mentioned several times before in this blog, and I have to admit to being a wee bit obsessed with this unique fruit. Every time I spy quinces at the farmers’ market (late fall through early winter), there is a curious shopper or two bent over the box, peering perplexedly at the lumpy, yellow fruit. It has become my mission to proselytize (to anyone who will listen) about the quince’s distinctive charms. Once greatly valued as a canning fruit (they contain lots of pectin, which helps jams and jellies gel nicely), the funny-looking, old fashioned quince has largely been forgotten.

I discovered quinces years ago while working in the kitchen at Chez Panisse. The pastry chefs would combine quince slices with apples and pears in pretty galettes, and poach them for a rustic, wintery compote. I quickly became smitten with the fruit’s exotic, perfumey flavor and lavish, floral fragrance – try keeping a bowlful in your kitchen (or a single quince on the dashboard of your car) – and you’ll see what I mean. Although they look sort of like apples, quinces have extremely hard, astringent flesh that must be cooked before eating.  Many quinces also come swathed in a furry, sticky substance which must be scrubbed off even before you can peel them. It does take some work to prepare quinces, but their transformation from inedible, so-hard-you-have-to-hack-through-it ivory-hued fruit to a velvety-textured, ambrosial, carnelian-hued fruit (yep, it changes color when it cooks) is very worth the effort.

Here is a great poached quince recipe (including some pretty pictures which show the color transformation upon cooking) from David Lebovitz, a talented pastry chef I admire: www.davidlebovitz.com/archives/2008/11/rosy_poached_quince.html

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