Thursday, October 8, 2009

All About Quince

Here are some pictures I took of the tree and the quince we picked up from the ranch. Recipes and more pictures to follow soon. For now, enjoy reading a bit of the history of quince!
Oh Joy is the Season! Quince are ripe!

Every year I try to make it to my boyfriend's grandfather's ranch to get as much quince as I can carry home ... or as much as my boyfriend can!

Quince is a funny fruit but worth all the effort and certainly rising in popularity again. I've noticed recently that quince paste is on a rise of popularity in specialty shops and gourmet eateries for accompaniment on the cheese board.

I'm finding so many recipes of what to do with quince. But for a starter I'll describe this little gem of a fruit find. It's sort of like a cross between a pear and an apple. When it's not ripe its a pale green color. Ripened it's a light warm yellow. It ripens like a pear on a tree, you have to pick it the same way by tilting the fruit upwards. If it snaps away from the twig it's on, it's ready to be picked. Quince have fuzz on them like a peach. But best of all is the perfume they give off when they are ripe. And they taste like strawberries!

Quince, or Cydonia Oblonga, belong to the genus cydonia of the rose family (Rosaceae). The tree is a small diciduous tree, growing 5 - 8 meters tall and 4 - 6 meters wide. It is related to apples and pears, and like them has a pome fruit. The fruit is fairly pear shaped and grows 7 - 12 centimeters long and 6 - 9 centimeters broad.

Quince are typically never eaten raw. They are far too sour and bitter. I did recently hear of a story of a Cherokee woman who ate them raw like an apple. Well, I guess it's all an acquired taste then.

The high amount of pectin in the skin make quince an absolute delight for making into jelly. The rose red color is so beautiful to look at as well!

Accoording to various professional chefs quince are paired well with:

brown sugar
foie gras

Quince also go well with fall and eastern spices like aromatics, cardamom, cassia, ginger, and juniper.

I would recommend pairing quince as a sweet or savory fruit using spices you like. I can't say I'm a fan of juniper and absolutely can't drink gin. But that's just me after all, so I would never put it with juniper.

The best ways to cook them have been mentioned as:


Some examples of what some famous chefs have to say/make:

"Quinces, if you eat them alone, don't taste great. But if you broil and caramelize them, they do." - Dieter Schorner

Sauteed Foie Gras with Quince Confits - Gray Kunz

Quince and Apple Tarte Tatin - Lindsey Shere

However the traditional things to make with quince are jelly, pies, paste, and they go with savory things like meat wonderfully. I hear lamb is awesome with pickled quince. And really quince go wonderfully with apples, strawberries, and rubarb when it comes to pie and cake. It isn't typically made into a pie or cake on it's own.

Quince have a long history.

The native area to the quince is said to lie between Caspian and Black Seas in a mountainous region called the Caucasus. The Caucasus area touches Northern Turkey, Iran, and Southern Georgia. Quince are currently also grown in Asian Minor, Greece, Southern France, Italy, and the US, in California. It is believed the Armenian immigrants brought it to this state around the turn of the 19th or 20th century from Asia Minor.

Quince appear as a wedding ritual item in Greek weddings as far back as 600 BCE. The Greeks associated the quince with romance as the mythology holds that the quince was a gift from Aphrodite, the goddess of love. The ritual was to toss whole quinces into the bridal chariot.

Ancient Roman suitors gave quinces to their lovers as a sign of commitment.

Gaius Plinius Secundus, Pliny the Elder, a philosopher of the first century CE, mentions a cultivated quince as the only kind that could be eaten raw. The Mulvian variety. Lucius Lunius Moderatus Columella, another naturalist, names three varieties also: sparrow apple, golden apple, and must apple.

Some scholars even speculate that it was a quince, not an apple, that tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden. The Garden of Eden is believed to be located in the Caucasus region where the quince is native to and as Columella shows, some varieties of quince were even referred to as a kind of apple. The description goes that the fruit has a pretty apple shape with yellow inviting tone ... as a member of the rose family the quince gives off a very alluring aroma that would make the fruit very tempting, tempting to Eve indeed! No fruit is actually mentioned, but later in the Bible the apple is named.

Cultivation of the quince began in Mesopotamia, an area now Northern Iraq between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Between 200 and 100 BCE, the "golden apple" was cultivated by the Greeks. The quince was cultivated before the apple and reached Palestine by 100 BCE. And it is theorized that the reference to the apple in the Song of Solomon may have not been an apple, but a quince instead.

The Arabs moved from their capital Demascus to create the walled city of Baghdad after the Arabs battled the Byzantines circa 763 CE. A huge import of goods occured at that time and quinces were among them being imported from Isfahan in Persia along with salt, saffron, and apples.

Charlemagne ordered 812 quince trees planted in the French Royal Gardens.

Chaucer mentions coine in reference to the quince, from the French word coing.

During the 18th century colonization of New Zealand and Australia, New Zealand fell back on the Maori native roots and were then introduced to quince. It is unknown how quince arrived at New Zealand but likely from Eastern India filtered down through the trades.

Quince was only briefly mentioned in New England. An entry in the Massachusetts Bay Colony Memorandum requesting quince seeds from England was made on March 16, 1629. By 1720, quince was popular throughout the colony home gardens. Apples soon made an appearance and became much more highly popularized over the quince.

Americans, having become accustomed to the apple did not take as well to the quince when it was brought over by European and Near Eastern immigrants. Although in the 1850s there was a Texan who grew many fruit trees, which included the quince.

The quince became quite widely accepted in the Latin countries of the world. It's significantly historically linked with Uruguay, Mexico, and Chili. Currently a massive export from Spain is membrillo, quince paste. It's typically served with tapas inlcuding manchego cheese. I've also seen it served with salty cheese, typically paired with beer, like a hearty English or aged Irish cheddar. I imagine a nice aged salt pocked gouda would do wonderfully with it.

I'm excited to experiment with quince this year. I obsess over food and try to find something new and different to do all the time.

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