The quince originates from the area between the Caspian Sea and Black Sea, known as Caucasus. Although most who are familiar with the odd fruit associate it with jams and preserves (it very high in pectin), the quince has a long and rich history. It could have very well been the forbidden fruit Eve picked from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Cultivation began in Mesopotamia between 200 and 100 BCE. To the ancient Greeks it was a symbol of fertility. Charlemagne is said to be partly responsible for introducing it to the French. It even held brief popularity in colonial America (but was promptly replaced by the apple).
Although still considered common in the Middle East, the quince has been relegated as a specialty fruit and can be found in markets specializing in Middle Eastern cuisine or in the dark corners of your chain grocer. It is a most unfortunate fate for a food of such rich history and wondrous flavor.
Quince is seasonal and available in the fall through January.
I spontaneously picked one up from the local food co-op, and the first thing to notice is the smell. Quince's are extremely fragrant, so much so that one may want to consider leaving them in the kitchen for a few days as a natural air freshener before eating them. It is somewhat laborious to prepare and cannot be eaten raw - it's as hard as winter squash and much too acidic and tart - but the effort is well-rewarded.
With this one quince, it was decided to do a simple poach:
Vanilla Poached Quince:
about eight quinces
a vanilla bean
sugar, to taste (the recipe says 3/4 cup but it doesn't quite need that much)
- Bring about two liters of water to simmer in a heavy saucepan.
- Meanwhile, remove skins with a vegetable peeler and cut each quince, very carefully with a sharp knife, into wedges.
- Split the vanilla bean pod, remove the seeds, adding both to water.
- Add quince and sugar.
- Cover and simmer, stir occasionally very carefully, for about three hours .
It's recommended the quince be refrigerated overnight to allow the flavors to settle (it still tastes wonderful if you don't). As the quince cooks, it turns from white to a fleshly pink-orange color and it emits an absolutely intoxicating fragrance that fills the house for the entire day (seriously, even if you don't eat it, the fragrance alone is worth the effort).
I served this with freshly made whipped cream.