From Funky To Fabulous
Lumpy, rock hard, and fiercely tart when raw, quince is an uncommon backyard fruit these days. However, cooking works magic on this unassuming fruit, which was once the ‘golden apple’ of lore and myth. Native from Greece to Persia, quince has many varieties, some ancient, some developed more recently as it made its way across the then-New World. Edible quince trees and shrubs have generally small flowers and hefty fruit, while decorative flowering quince have showy, fragrant flowers and small fruit that are generally held to be inedible.
My Ukrainian neighbor has a lovely small tree that was bending under a huge crop of fruit this year. When I passed by recently, the oldest son was up a ladder, handing down fat golden fruit to his mother, who carefully chose some perfect specimens for me. I was delighted, as there are several favorite quince dishes that add a piquant note to holiday meals. Quince jam or jelly is equally delicious on toast or mixed into soft goat cheese and served with salmon or poultry. Sliceable quince paste, aka membrillo, is a traditional partner for sharp aged cheeses but also makes an intriguing filling for chocolate cake or truffles. My grandkids call little membrillo cubes ‘quince gummies’ and they like to stir quince jam into vanilla pudding, which they just learned how to make in time for the holidays. Speaking of which, may your holidays be peaceful and restorative, as I hope ours will be(!).
Ukrainian Quince Dessert
My neighbor makes a simple and subtly sweet traditional dessert from ripe quince that’s a lovely way to savor this unusual fruit. She says, “Wash quince and cut in half, remove the core and dice the fruit. Put in a saucepan with a little water (as if making applesauce). Cook over medium low heat until the cubes soften and expand. Serve warm with some sour cream mixed with honey.”
Jammin’ With Quince
Though quince fruit is cream colored, when cooked, it turns rosy. One of my favorite food writers, Harold McGee, explains that heat changes the tannins that make raw quince so astringent, and as they break down, they release anthocyanins, which range from the red of cabbage to the blue of blueberries. If quince is peeled, the jam will be pinker, but if unpeeled (the Ukrainian way), the result will be more of an autumnal golden color.
Rustic Quince Jam
Start by peeling (optional), coring, and chopping the fruit. For a less rustic effect, grate the fruit (it will also cook more quickly).
3 cups water
4 cups chopped or grated quince
1 tablespoon lemon juice 1 teaspoon lemon zest (optional)
3 cups cane sugar
Bring water to a boil in a large pot. Add fruit, lemon juice, and rind (if using), return to a boil and simmer until tender (10-15 minutes depending on size of pieces). Add sugar, stir until dissolved, then reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens and turns rosy. If need be, add a little more boiling water and continue simmering until jam is thick and pink. When a spoonful put in a saucer gels quickly, pour the jam into 4 prepared 8-ounce jars, seal and process in a boiling water bath. Makes about 4 cups.
Membrillo (Quince Paste)
Thick, sweet quince paste is prized throughout South and Central America and much of Europe. Again, peeling the quince makes for a rosier paste, while leaving the peels on usually results in a caramel color.
Avocado or any vegetable oil
2 pounds (about 6 cups) washed, cored
and chopped quince
1 cup water
3-1/2 cups cane sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Lightly oil a glass baking dish (8×8 or 9×9 inch), set aside. Combine fruit in a large sauce pan with the water, sugar, and lemon juice. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally. The mixture will turn golden, then rosier as it simmers. When it reaches 220 degrees F, pour a spoonful into a saucer and let it cool; if the mixture sets a bit, it’s done. If not, keep simmering until it gels on the plate. Remove from heat, let it cool a little, then puree with an immersion blender or food processor and pour into the oiled pan. Smooth the top with a soft spatula and cool to room temperature. Cover tightly and chill in refrigerator for a few days until fully set and firm. Run a knife around the edges and flip the paste onto a clean cutting surface. Cut in squares, wrap each piece tightly, and refrigerate for 2-3 months or freeze for 6-12 months.