Seasonal Eating: Working with Quince
This is a guest post by Sarah Reinertsen, Chief Operating Officer at Foodtree.
I had never heard of quince until spending time in Australia, where the trees are all over the orchards surrounding the Adelaide Hills and into the Barossa Valley. My ﬁrst encounter with quince was in its preserved form, as quince paste would be a staple at any Australian dinner party that ﬁnished with a selection of local cheeses. I quickly became addicted to this new ﬂavour.
Quinces are popular throughout the Mediterranean, especially Spain, where it is called membrillo and is often paired with Manchengo cheese. They are used throughout the Middle East in tagines, preserves, roasts and stews.
Like a pear or apple, the quince is a perfect autumn fruit to transcend the line between sweet and savoury. It pairs equally well with roast pork, lamb or duck as it does in a crumble or tart.
How to Choose and Process Quince
- They may look vaguely pear or apple-like, but quince are hard as rocks – and should be. A soft quince may indicate spoilage so choose the yellowish green ones with rock hard ﬂesh. You can actually bruise them by dropping them, though, so don’t bat them around the backyard for baseball practice and expect a good result in the kitchen afterwards.
- Don’t refrigerate the quince, as the aroma can be quite strong. They can be frozen whole or cored and in a sealed bag without compromising the texture.
- Wash and scrub the soft fuzz off the exterior. Depending on how you are cooking them, you may or may not want to peel and/or core quinces, for the skin and pip contain gel-producing pectin. Like pears or apples, quinces do oxidise and brown when exposed to air so deal with them reasonably quickly and keep in acidulated water until use. (This is less essential for slow-cooking, where the fruit turns a deep brownish pink).
- Cutting quinces takes a bit of muscle and a strong knife. Take care that your knife doesn’t slip, especially with the ﬁrst cut.
- Given the hard texture, quince need a long cooking time to turn from white-ish yellow to a deep rose. This makes them ideal for roasting or slowly poaching. Like apples or pears, quinces will turn to mush if overcooked, so bear in mind the size of the fruit and your desired result and keep an eye on them.
How to Prepare Quince
Pan fry slices in butter for some caramelisation before scattering them around your next pork or lamb roast. The quince will add ﬂavour to drippings should you wish to make a sauce and will likewise be caramelised in the juices of the meat.
Quinces can also be roasted simply wrapped in foil like you would a beet, removed from the oven when soft and chopped or sliced to serve. You can bake them with butter, sugar, nuts, lemon and spices for a sweet version.
The simplest preparation for quince is to peel, core and quarter quinces and cover with a 1:1 simple syrup* and let them bubble away very, very slowly. Add some whole spices if you wish – a strip of lemon zest, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, vanilla bean all come to mind (be sparing your ﬁrst go with this, and perhaps don’t put all of them in the same pot).
The beauty of this is that you get poached quinces to use in desserts such as tarts or crumbles, but you also get the gorgeous rose syrup which can be kept in the fridge for future use. The syrup can be reduced to the desired consistency and used to ﬂavour custards or glaze desserts.
*Simple syrup is made with equal parts sugar and water by weight, heated until the sugar dissolves (and no more, lest you start to make a caramel)
A favourite preparation technique of mine for any fruit or vegetable, pickling quinces yields a tangy sweet-sour chutney like sauce that can be used as an accompaniment to meats and curries. Bring vinegar, sugar and desired spices such as peppercorn and clove until sugar has dissolved and then add sliced or chopped quinces and simmer until just soft and pink. The pickle can be canned at this point, or kept for a few weeks in the refrigerator.
Jams, Jellies, Preserves and Pastes
Quince jelly, jam and paste can be made by cooking with sugar and a bit of lemon juice. Strain for a jelly, mash for a paste, mix with other fruits to come up with your own creation and preserve in jars (ensure you consult trusted sources for recommended canning times, sugar ratios and temperatures). Quince jelly can be used to ﬂavour savoury dishes, sauces and gravies much like you might use redcurrant or apricot jelly.
Give some a try and perhaps you’ll also be captioning your next Foodtree quince photo with my standard catch-cry: QUINCES!!!
Thanks to Australian Stephanie Alexander’s “The Cook’s Companion” and Claudia Roden’s “The Food of Spain” and “The New Book of Middle Eastern Food” for information on quinces. All three books I heartily recommend for your library!