Tasty Transformation: Quince
“They dined on mince, and slices of quince, which they ate with a runcible spoon; And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand, They danced by the light of the moon.” —Edward Lear
The favorite fruit of the goddess of love, Aphrodite, quince was believed to have been the “golden apple” given to her by Paris. Ancient Greeks associated it with fertility and it became known as the fruit of love and marriage. Quince is a pome fruit that originated in southeast Asia and Turkey. Some researchers even believe that when apples were referenced in the bible as the “forbidden fruit” plucked by Eve in the garden of Eden, it was actually a quince.
Quince are the sole member of the genus Cydonia oblonga, a member of the rose family.
The trees grow best in full sun, in well drained soil with lots of rich compost. They thrive in zones 5-9 and although they are self pollinating, they do best if grown with another. The trees are small with a pleasing natural shape and are easy to maintain. They reach 8-15’ at maturity. The twisted and gnarled branches add visual appeal to your garden all year round starting in the spring with lovely pink or white blossoms, to the rubenesque yellow fruits in mid summer.
Quince are knobby, fuzzy, pear or apple shaped and hard as a rock. Basically inedible when raw, quince has a very strong astringency that makes your mouth pucker. When ripe, the skin turns golden yellow and the flesh is tough and spongy, making it difficult to cut. Bletted fruit (left on the tree to be softened by frost and subsequently decayed) are the only way to eat them raw. Modern cultivars are being developed now which can be eaten out of hand. The seeds contain nitriles, when consumed they mix with stomach acids and the nitriles produce hydrogen cyanide. You would, however, need to consume large quantities in order to become poisoned
Quinces’ aroma will beguile you. If you leave one on a windowsill, it will slowly release a delicate fragrance of vanilla, citrus and apple. The magic transformation happens when you cook it. The white flesh turns pink and the scent intensifies, with a little sugar and water, it becomes delicious – sweet, delicate, fragrant.
Once common in the kitchen gardens and orchards of colonial America, quince is difficult to find in our modern grocery stores, its unpopularity is probably due to the work involved in preparing them. Quince contain high amounts of pectin so they are used to make jams, jellies and puddings. With the advent of commercial gelatin and pectin, they have fallen out of favor.
Nutritionally, quince is moderately high in vitamin C, potassium, copper, iron and fiber. It’s low in calories and contains anthocyanis – the purple pigments found in berries that has been shown to reduce risk of cancer.
Some newer varieties worth trying are: Orange (this is one of the softer quince which can be eaten raw), Cook’s Jumbo, Champion, Pineapple and Rich’s Dwarf.
The term marmalade originally meaning “quince jam”, derives from “marmelo” the Portuguese word for quince. Here is an adapted recipe for marmalade from 17th century England.
Marmalade of Quinces
Preheat oven to 350
6 quince (about 2 ½ lbs) peeled, cored and chopped
2 ½ lbs sugar (5 cups)
2 cups water
Place chopped quince in and oven safe baking dish, sprinkle with ½ the sugar and pour the water over the top. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 until soft – about 1 ½ hours. Using a slotted spoon, scoop out the quince into a heavy saucepan. With the back of a fork, mash the quince to a pulp. Pour liquid from the baking pan into the mixture. Cook on low heat until it becomes very thick – you should be able to scrape a spoon across the pan and see the bottom. Ladle into clean sterilized jars, fit with lids and let cool. I recommend processing the jars in a hot bath for 10 minutes.
*This next recipe is from Allyson Levy at Hortus Conclusus where they grow 10 varieties of quince.
Double Quince Paste & Jelly
Quince – peeled, cored and quartered
(There are no exact measurements for the recipe, so you will be adding ingredients according to amounts of fruit used)
Place quince into a large pan with just enough water to cover fruit. Boil until soft, but do not overcook.
Using a slotted spoon, remove quince from the liquid and place into a ricer, on fine grind. Add the fruit pulp to a heavy saucepan with sugar and cook on low heat until it becomes a deep scarlet. Stir occasionally to be sure it does not burn. Transfer to a non-stick baking sheet and place in a pre-heated 150-200 degree oven. Roast for 2-3 hours until it dries to the hardness of cheese. Once cooled, slice into 1” pieces and put into storage containers. Keep refrigerated. Serve with salty cheese or smear on crusty bread.
Measure the amount of water left over in the pot, and add equal amounts of sugar. Bring to a boil. Continue cooking until it becomes a thick gel. Ladle the rosey gel into clean, sterilized jars and seal. Process the jars in a hot bath for 10 minutes to insure they are sealed.
*Ratafia is an old fashioned cordial made from fruit steeped in alcohol
2 ripe quince
Juice of 2 lemons
1 quart vodka
¼ tsp each cinnamon & ginger (optional)
Rub all the grey fuzz off the surface of the quince with a cloth, rinse and dry. Grate them into a bowl, peels & core included. Mix with the lemon juice and pack into a clean quart jar. Add spices and sugar and fill to ½” of the top with vodka and seal with a lid. Shake vigorously to combine all ingredients and place in a dark cupboard. Shake daily, occasionally tasting for about a month. Once it is to your taste, strain and jar. Cheers!