Mysterious plant reveals a fruit rich with honey-perfumed flavour!
Quince is the elusive autumn crop that is often overlooked … Possibly because it is perceived as ordinary and difficult to process? They are tough little nuggets to cut. Upon more careful inspection, this mysterious plant reveals a fruit rich with honey-perfumed flavour and a transient history. Quinces belong to the rose family, as do apples, pears, and peaches. They grow on small, shrub-like trees that flower and later produce the fist-size, lumpy, often fuzzy fruit. Native to the Middle East, quinces were introduced to the New World by Europeans in the 17th century. Deliciously notorious for a healthy dose of naturally occurring pectin, it is often the starting point of marmalades and sweet jellies.
The heady aroma of a golden quince is spicy and complex, with hints of apple, pear, and citrus. When cooked—and its hard, tart flesh must be cooked—a quince becomes soft and dense and develops a sweet, slightly piquant flavor and an even richer perfume. Quinces are especially known for turning a a jewel-like rose when cooked.
Quince’s assertive flavor and floral aroma go well with a variety of ingredients. We pair them with cinnamon, vanilla, almonds, cream, and salty cheeses and meats like Stilton, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and prosciutto. An iconic quince preparation is Spanish membrillo (mem-bree-yoh), a thick, jam-like paste that’s delicious with Manchego cheese or Serrano ham. Simple quince jelly is also an appropriate accompaniment to warm breakfast toast. Slow-cooking methods like poaching and roasting work best to break down the fruit’s flesh, making it tender, less tart, and delicious in both sweet and savory dishes.
Poach quinces in water with simple flavors like honey and lemon and use them to add a touch of sweetness to a savory salad, or try poaching them with bolder flavors like red wine, orange, star anise, and sugar to serve warm over vanilla ice cream.
Roast them with honey, balsamic vinegar, and orange juice and serve alongside rich meats, duck, or goose. Like apples, quinces can be baked (peel and hollow them out and then fill with sugar, cream, and butter) or used in tarte Tatin and cakes.