Native to central Asia, the old-fashioned quince fruit is often overlooked. Grown in temperate climates, fresh quince are hard, with white flesh that is dry, sour, and inedible. When cooked, quince flesh becomes soft, rosy, succulent, and seductively sweet. (When grown in tropical locations, quince can be enjoyed fresh off the tree as you would an apple.)
Since quince are high in pectin, it easy to make quince jam or jelly without added pectin. You can also use quince to make delicious wine, cook the fruit for a dessert or breakfast dish, roast them with meats, stew them with less tender cuts to help tenderize meat, or combine quince with apples, pears, or cranberries to add interest when making cider, sauce, or pie.
What is it related to? Quince fruit (Europoean Cydonia oblonga and Asian Chaenomeles) are medium-size fruits in the Rose family, Rosaceae. Quince are cousins to apples and pears, as well as plums, strawberries, and loquats. In the U.S., quince trees are often found in apple and pear orchards, and their rootstock is used for cultivating pear trees. Commercially, the most important growing regions are Turkey and Argentina.
When is it available? Since most of us have no quince fruit tree, quince is generally available in farmers markets fall through winter.
What does it look like? Quince look very much like a wild cousin of the pear, with a stubby, irregular shape, white flesh, and green to yellow skin. Some quince may have a fuzzy skin like peaches. You may notice an aromatic, tropical aroma, especially as the fruit ripens at room temperature.
What portions do I eat? Although the skin is edible, quince skin is typically peeled and discarded along with the core and seeds. The flesh of the quince can be enjoyed in a variety of ways.
What does it taste like? Fresh ripe quince flesh is sour and dry or chalky. When cooked, quince flesh softens, turns a beautiful rose color, and the flavor becomes cloyingly sweet.
What’s the best way to store it? Store quince and other pome fruits (apples and pears) near freezing (32°F), in very humid conditions, such as plastic bags with holes. Examine bags often for visible moisture and immediately air out bags with any condensation. You may store all types of pomes together, however they give off ethylene gas, which ripens other produce faster. Therefore, keep quince and other pomes away from other produce, especially bananas, grapes, potatoes, and onions. If kept in ideal conditions, fresh quince can be stored for several months. For longer storage, preserve quince by pickling, or canning or freezing poached or cooked and pureed fruit.
How is it prepared? Wash fruit under running water. Peel if desired, cut in half or quarters, and remove core. Slice or chop as desired. You can also purchase an apple coring tool to remove the core from whole pomes. The flesh of quince, apples, and pears turn brown readily when cut and exposed to air. To delay browning, prepare the fruit as follows: Prepare a solution using 3,000 mgs crushed (plain!) Vitamin C tablets in a gallon of water. Or use plain apple juice, which is less effective but does the trick. Soak prepared fruit for 5 minutes and then drain well in a colander.
How is it served? While quince is perhaps most often used to make jams and jellies, it can also be used in pies and sauces, perhaps combined with apples, pears, or other fruits. Thin slices of fresh, tart quince can also be served with meals to provide interest or to cleanse the palate. Cooked to a thick paste, known as membrillo, quince can be served with crackers and aged cheese (traditionally, Spanish Manchego, but Parmesan, Romano, Asiago, and even a nutty Gruyere or Ementhaler would substitute nicely). You can also pickle quince, and use it in savory meat dishes, or to make wine.
Recipes to get you started:
- Cranberry Quince Sauce from epicurious
- Quince Paste (Membrillo) from Simply Recipes
- Historic Quince Recipes (paste and preserves) from Historic Food
- Meat Stew with Quince (Chorosht’e Be) from epicurious
- Vanilla Poached Quince from David Lebovitz
- Roast Pears and Quinces with Tangerine Zest from Martha Stewart
- Honey-Poached Quince Pie from allrecipecs.com
- Quince Wine from Winemaking by Jack Keller