by erin thursby
Quince is not a convenience fruit like apples or bananas. You can’t just bite into a raw quince. The skin is too tough and, uncooked, the flesh is too sour.
Despite the trouble of prep, it’s a handy little secret ingredient to slip into dishes both savory and sweet, mainly because it takes to spices so well, enhancing the flavor and adding a touch of mystery.
Most Americans aren’t familiar with quince, but it’s a common ingredient throughout the Mediterranean, Spain, the Middle East and parts of South America.
More closely related to the rose, not the pear it resembles, quince was so pervasive that most of the legends involving apples (such as Paris and the Golden Apple) are said to actually be quinces. Apples were cultivated later and are much newer to the culinary scene than quince, which has been around, by some estimates, for about 4,000 years. In the Middle Ages they used quince as room fresheners, often studding them with cloves.
When choosing a quince, keep it mind that it won’t look perfect. They’re lumpy and usually a little scraped and bruised. Make sure there are no soft spots and that the quince has pleasant scent. A ripe quince is hard and needs a good knife to get through the skin. Once it’s cooked though, the sourness mellows and you’re left with a delicate but complex fruit with a floral signature. The simplest method is simply to poach them after peeling, slicing and coring them. Be careful when cutting the quince, as the toughness can make things difficult. Toss in the same sort of spices you would when poaching apples or pears. The quince will turn a rosy color as it cooks and softens.
You can store the cooked quince in the poaching liquid for about a week. It only gets better as you store it, sort of like marinating. Serve it with ice cream or something crunchy such as crushed walnuts.
As unlovable as quince seems to be, it’s revered in other countries as a perfect fruit for making into jellies, marmalade and jam. Like apples, its chock full of natural pectin, which is basically the stuff that gets jelly to jell. You can skip the step of preparing the whole fruit by simply picking up a prepared quince cheese or paste and adding it to a recipe. Keep in mind that different preparations of quince can have a different character, so unless you pick up the exact same brand and type every time, you’ll have a different flavor and texture.