Thursday, January 29, 2009

consider the quince

"They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon..."

The quince, despite the comical quality of its name, is not a fruit of Edward Lear's imagination. Unlike the runcible spoon, the quince is very real. It is, however, appropriately odd.

The quince, like the apple, is a member of the rose family, Rosaceae, but it is alone in its genus, Cydonia. It looks like the mutant offspring of an apple and a lemon, but smells like an intensely ripe pear: deep, sweet, and floral.

The quince's aroma is deceptive: should you bite into a ripe quince, you will be unpleasantly surprised. The texture is hard, the flavor tannic. The quince, like certain varieties of persimmon, can only be eaten raw after bletting, a process in which the fruit is effectively left to rot and ferment.

Cooked, however, the quince is an entirely different story. The quince is the membrillo in membrillo paste, the classic accompaniment to manchego cheese. Rich in pectin, the natural setting agent in fruit, it finds a home in jams and jellies. And poached in water with just a little sugar, the quince becomes a light dessert or an indulgent breakfast.

So consider the quince. You won't even need a runcible spoon.

Vanilla Almond Tea-Poached Quince

Vanilla beans are standard for poaching fruit, but vanilla-scented tea adds an extra twist of flavor.

(Serves one for several breakfasts or desserts. Quince will keep for a week, covered and refrigerated.)

Take two quince and peel them. Cut the flesh away from the core in pieces, and then cut the pieces into rough batons.

Put the quince batons in a small pot with a lid. Add two tablespoons of sugar, the juice of one lemon, and half a teaspoon of loose-leaf vanilla almond tea to the pot. (You can tie the loose leaves in cheesecloth for easy removal.) Pour in just enough water to cover the quince.

Put the lid on the pot, and simmer over low heat for two hours. After the two hours are up, remove the lid from the pot. Skim or strain off the tea leaves if you didn't tie them in cheesecloth and you object to having them in the finished dish. Reduce until the cooking liquid becomes thick and syrupy.

Poached quince may be served warm or cool, with whipped cream, ice-cream, or yogurt on top.

Note: Long exposure to heat will cause the tannins in quince to undergo a chemical reaction that turn the fruit pink or red, depending on the variety. The cooking time in this recipe isn't long enough for those results, but if you're curious and have time on your hands, you may want to try the recipe mentioned here.


Photon said...

I wonder if we have a slow-cooker. This could be awesome!

adele said...

Photon - You can cook quince until they turn red using a regular poaching method - you just have to keep adding water to the pot.

Julie said...

This looks so good. Where are you finding quinces at this time of year? I never see them at the supermarket, Whole Foods or otherwise. I sometimes see them at the farmers' market but this year didn't see them at all.

adele said...

Julie - I found the quince at Boston's Haymarket, which is a bit like the market equivalent of a junk shop. :)

Kelly said...

How lovely! I haven't poached fruit yet, and it's such a delicious prospect.

Speaking of warm fruit (such a good winter dish), I think I'm going to roast some pears in the oven tonight with ricotta and honey. And maybe re-read "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (dear Peter Quince!) while dreaming of your recipe...

adele said...

Kelly - Oven-roasted pears. Mmm. I look forward to seeing the blog post later!

Katy said...

Oh I love quince, quince jelly especially! It makes a fantastic tart! Your post is making me hungry!