Last week while shopping, I discovered quinces, which are similar in shape to the yellow Delicious apple. I caught a whiff of their lemony scent and had to buy one.
At home, slicing it revealed yellow-white flesh that was dry in appearance, with tiny seeds.
This yellow-skinned fruit looks and tastes like a cross between an apple and a pear, and has an astringent, tart flavor. The quince becomes edible when cooked. Because of its high pectin content, it is popular in jams, jellies, and preserves.
Quinces are available from October through December. “You might have only 10 customers who buy them, but we try to stock quinces for them,” said Marcia Siemans, zone coordinator for Kroger. “These quinces come from California.”
Actually, quince is one of the oldest fruits on earth; it grew wild in Persia before recorded history. It was grown for its honey, as a flavoring, and was made into wine. At one time it was thought to be a type of pear. In the Middle Ages, the best quinces (preserves) were made in Portugal. The term “marmalade” comes from marmelo, the Portuguese word for quince.
Buy quince that are large, firm, and yellow, with little or no sign of green. The fruit bruises easily. To store, wrap quinces in a plastic bag and refrigerate for up to two months. Peel before using in jams, preserves, desserts, and savory dishes.
Contemporary recipes are few for this fruit, probably because it takes so long to cook. But Claudia Roden, in The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, writes that “there are many dishes of duck and chicken with quince in the Arab world.” Roast Duck with Quince and the Moroccan Tagine of Lamb with Quince are among her recipes.
According to Gil Marks in The World of Jewish Cooking, “Poached quinces are often added to Middle Eastern meat stews and chicken dishes. Quince dishes are traditional Rosh Hashanah fare among Sephardim.”
When I finally got around to using my one and only quince, I adapted a recipe for Honey Stewed Quinces from Classic Home Desserts by Richard Sax. It called for nine quinces; I had one. This is when a cook has to know how to downsize: I divided by nine.
I peeled the quince and sliced it very thin. Then I sauteed it in a tablespoon of butter. After sprinkling on a teaspoon of sugar and squeezing the juice of a half lemon, I poured one-fourth cup of dry white wine over the fruit and let it simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. I should have cooked it longer, but it started to burn. All the liquid was absorbed to tenderize the fruit. I could have added more wine.
Fortunately I salvaged it, discarding the burned, darkened portions. The color of cooked quince should be rosy, and mine took on that glow. In the refrigerator I had half a cup of homemade cranberry sauce, which I poured over the fruit. I chilled it overnight.
The next evening I was in a dinner dilemma: I could bake chicken with the sauce of quince and cranberry, or I could add the quince to the bread stuffing that would accompany the chicken.
Instead, I used it as a sauce on the side to accompany the baked chicken. The one quince produced a pint of sauce, which I microwaved for one minute. It was great with the chicken!
Kathie Smith is The Blade's food editor. E-mail her at email@example.com.