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Quince: a new taste sensation (for me, anyway)

November 5th, 2013 at Tue, 5th, 2013 at 2:55 pm by Karen Dale

Quinces at Plum Forest

It’s not often a girl gets to feel like Marilyn Monroe. But I could just about quote her when she said, “Oh I Just LOVE to find new ways to wear diamonds!”

In my case, it’s more like “I just LOVE to find new fruit I’ve never tasted before!” In this case, it’s QUINCE.

We fruit clubbers were introduced to Quince by Rachel Petrich, who brought samples, recipes, history, and comments like “If I make my parents a batch of this stuff, they approve of me for a YEAR.” She was speaking of MEMBRILLO, a traditional Spanish confection rather like a gumdrop, often served with slices of manchego cheese.

In an era when “Fresh Produce” equals “raw fruits & vegetables,” we’re not accustomed to a fruit that MUST be cooked before eaten. When eaten raw, quince is too tart and astringent. When cooked for a long slow time, ah MERCY! it’s sensational. Imagine, with your mind’s mouth, a taste somewhere between pear, lemon, cantaloupe and vanilla—but with much more depth and richness to melt on your tongue.

The taste isn’t the only treat that Quince provides. The raw fruit’s skin gives off a lovely aroma that can fill your kitchen for days on end. And with a long enough cook-down, the color of its white flesh blushes a beautiful coral-pink.

Given these many beauties, it’s no wonder that the Quince has ancient associations with love, sex, and fertility. Quince is what Atalanta ran off her course for, what Paris gave Aphrodite to indicate she was most powerful among the Goddesses, what Greeks still give their newlyweds with the command “get into that room and eat this quince.” (Let’s assume the newlyweds get it cooked, pink and delicious instead of raw, pale, and puckery.)

So here’s how to make this Food of the Gods

I bought 6 quince at the meeting. Back home, I found the recipe for Membrillo at SimplyRecipes.com (very helpful photos). I peeled and cored 5 quinces, cut them into 1/2″ chunks, put them into a big pot with the recipe’s required lemon juice & peel, vanilla pod, and sugar. It is supposed to cook down like apple sauce, then keep being cooked low until it turns pink. When after 90 minutes it was still not pink, I gave up on getting color, spread the paste over the bottom of an 8×8 pan about 1/4″ thick, then put it into the oven for quite some time until it got to gumdrop consistancy. (I realize my descriptions aren’t precise; the recipe is better, but this is kinda a play-by-ear procedure.)

With the remaining quince and 5 apples, I decided to make an apple-quince jam. Quince skin is supposed to have tons of pectin (and it’s also eatable), so I diced the peelings fine and cooked them for 25 more-or-less minutes until they were soft. Then I added the last quince, chunked, along with chunks of the five apples. Let that cook down with more lemon juice and lots of sugar.

This sauce seemed very watery, so after cooking it awhile I shoved a wire sieve down into the mash to isolate out some liquid, then sucked it out with a turkey baster and into a juice glass. Wow. If quince paste is ambrosial, then quince/apple juice is NECTAR OF THE GODS! The jam, once put into jars and cooled, set up nearly as thick as the membrillo, so in retrospect I’d leave the juice IN to make a more spreadable jam.

In the week I was making these experiments, fellow fruit clubbers were trying out quince tart, quince pumpkin pie, and quince jam on lamb burgers. In the following weeks, everything I made seem to go better with quince.

Plum Forest Farm has a quince tree and is still selling quinces but THIS WEEK ONLY, until the 9th when they will turn it into cider. They price by size. Plum Forest is in Paradise Valley and their farmstand is always open. So catch this Food of the Gods before they disappear into the cider mill.

gardens on the south end of Vashon Island, on a sandy hilltop overlooking Quartermaster Harbor. "Garden On, Vashon" shares what the Island has to teach us about gardening HERE—from making soils to sowing seeds to raising plants to harvest, cooking, preserving, and designing new ways to cultivate your little chunk of Vashon Island. To contact me, email karendale@centurytel.net, or leave a comment.

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