Sunday, 21 October 2007

Quinces

QuincesQuinces have been very hard to find in Ontario until recently. (Let's face it; they still are.) However, with the surge in demand for a wider range of fruits and their varieties, a few farmers are starting to grow them. My quinces in the picture above are somewhat runty; they were the last that the farmer had of his first commercial crop, and so they are somewhat small and on the green side. Also, some of them were inclined to split; the result of drought this summer. As it turns out, these hard and slightly under-ripe quinces are perfect for jelly and quince cheese. Quinces should never be soft; that is a sign of over-ripeness.

However neglected they have been in Ontario, quinces are an ancient cultivated fruit, with roots back to the highlands beyond the fertile crescent of Mesopotamia, from whence they spread; east, west, north and south although they have been particularly cherished around the Mediterranean. The golden apples that show up in many fairy tales and legends are almost certainly quinces. They are a relative of apples and pears, and have a sweet elusive pear-like fragrance that will fill a room. The trees are lovely and elegant in bloom, with pink blossoms sparser but larger than those of apples.

The fruits are also charming, in a wabi-sabi kind of way, being green to yellowish, with a knobby uneven shape and slightly fuzzy skin that catches the light beautifully. (The fuzz is a sign of immaturity; when the fruits are fully ripe most of it will be gone. At any rate, it is easily washed away.) There may be a tuft of tiny leaves at the blossom end.

So why are they so neglected here in Ontario? Well, they are simply inedible raw. The flesh is dry, sour and astringent. It is not until they are cooked (and usually sweetened) that their flavour develops and their fine qualities become apparent. In England they are traditionally used for pastries, preserves and jelly. They are used this way in Mediterranean and middle-eastern countries as well, but they are also cooked with meats (generally lamb, but sometimes chicken.)

I hope that in future quinces become more widely available here. They deserve to be much better known, and they have many possibilities for delicious eating.




Quince on Foodista

2 comments:

Kevin said...

Quinces sound interesting. I will have to see if I can find some at the St Lawrence market this weekend.

Marie said...

I've seen a couple of blog posts on quinces and I love the way it the paste looks! Also the description that it's in between an apple and a pear. I bought some membrillo at Whole Foods and tried it with some Manchego cheese. Interesting...love the sweet and pungent combo. Anyway, membrillo or quince paste's frangrance reminded me of Japanese pickled plums called Umeboshi, wierd, and then lo and behold, on the membrillo packaging it says "spanish plum paste"!