There is an old, broken down looking tree growing out back. It’s tucked into a row of pear trees; evidently what was a small orchard in years past. Now it’s unattended and dilapidated, but still produces a lot of fruit. The interesting thing about the one tree in particular, was the odd shape of the “pears.” They always looked squished and slightly askew. Without a doubt not pristine, uniform specimens. Another oddity, the fruit stays rock hard, never obtaining that soft neck that says, “Eat me! I’m ripe.” Chalking it up to the past-its-prime tree, it was a more than pleasant surprise to discover that the fruit was actually quince.
Heavenly quince, whose aromas fill a room and poets swoon over. Legendary when cooked into an exquisite paste known as membrillo which flatters a chunk of Manchego or a pungent bleu cheese. Nestled into tartlets or slipped into a quick bread, quince emits a familiar flavor that you just can’t put your finger on.
Quince is a member of the pome fruit family, as are apples and pears. Maybe that explains the squished pear appearance and a taste that is reminiscent of apples and pears, only not altered. However, unlike their relatives, cooking is a necessity. High tannin levels equate to an unpleasant, acidic taste; a minor setback that can be cured by spending time in simple syrup.
Quince sitting in simple syrup
It seems counterintuitive when most produce is harvested at its juicy peak, but choose fruit that is yellow, solid and heavy for its size. It should be free from soft spots and obvious signs of spoilage.
To prepare quince for poaching wash, peel and place fruit in a large bowl filled with acidulated water. That is a fancy term for using lemon water. Quince will brown easily. Plunking them into the lemon water will help preserve their color.
Quince simmering in vanilla-infused simple syrup
Since quince are hard-as-rocks, use a sharp, sturdy chef’s knife to slice and core fruit, returning them to the acid bath. When all the fruit is prepped, place them in a large kettle and cover with simple syrup which is a mixture of equal parts sugar and water. At this point you can include additional flavors like vanilla beans, star anise or cinnamon sticks. The quince will be gently infused with the spiced sugar liquid.
Quince is served
Give permission to the quince to stew in their own juices for 30 to 40 minutes or until soft; resulting in golden, rosy delicately poached fruit echoing the colors of fall.
A humble-sophisticated serving suggestion: Place fruit on a small plate, pipe with honey-flavored Greek yogurt and sprinkle with ground cinnamon.