Despite the quince’s distinction as one of the oldest cultivars in the United States, many folks don’t recognize it. “What’s a quince?” they ask. The usual reply is that it is a hard tree fruit, covered with fuzzy down that looks like an oddly-shaped apple or pear. It ripens to golden yellow with an alluring fragrance similar to that of a rose or ripe guava.
The standard script goes on to say that quince is a difficult fruit for cooking. But quince isn’t difficult at all – it’s just not an apple or a pear. Expecting it to behave like an apple or a pear is what leads cooks astray.
Beginning in early September, fruiting quince trees in backyards from Boston to Watsonville hang heavy with sun-ripened fragrant globes, ready for picking — but not for snacking. Quince is rarely eaten out of hand. Doing so is a recipe for tough, chewy, slightly astringent, mouth-puckering experience!
Quince must be cooked, and long, slow cooking is best. While cooking, the pulp color transitions from cream to salmon to caramel and finally to a beautiful ruby red. As this alchemy occurs, the woody, fibrous fruit becomes tender, the flavor mellows, and the fragrance intensifies. Quince won’t get mushy or fall apart.
At the Aptos Farmers Market, Thomas Farms and Mello-Dy Ranch have quinces available. Ethnic grocers and upscale supermarkets like Whole Foods also carry quinces in season. Pineapple, Smyrna, and Orange varieties are grown commercially in California, primarily in the San Joaquin Valley. Choose firm, yellowing quince, and don’t worry about storing the fruit or having to use it right away. Quince is a sturdy keeper and often improves with additional ripening after harvest. Fresh quinces make a golden, aromatic centerpiece for your table that will be ready to cook when you are.
Barbara Ghazarian, “The Queen of Quince,” is passionate about cooking quince and about resurrecting the near-forgotten fruit of her ancestry to its rightful place on the table and in the garden. With Simply Quince, she builds on the success of her award-winning cookbook, Simply Armenian: Naturally Healthy Ethnic Cooking Made Easy (2004). Ghazarian has appeared on TV, including Real Simple for PBS-TV and WGBH-Boston, is a frequent radio guest, and lectures to audiences from coast to coast.