I think Shakespeare’s Juliet was closer to the truth when she said, “…a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Quince can be marvelously sweet smelling.
If you are casually acquainted with the fruit, quince may seem more like an apple or a pear. And in fact, it is a “pome” fruit just like an apple or pear. Pome fruits are most easily described at a fruit with a “core” or “endocarp”. Apples and pears have cores, so do cotoneaster, hawthorn, loquat, medlar, Pyracantha, quince, rowan, and whitebeam.
Though quince shares other botanical traits with the rest of the pome fruits, the quince’s culinary traits are quite different. In fact, it’s culinary traits line up more with the rose (had you not considered rose culinary?).
A quince is of the family Rosaceae, as is (of course) the rose. Though thorn-less, the flowers of the quince are indeed very “rosy”. You can see the resemblance quite readily. The quince fruit itself is very similar to that of a rose’s, which is called a hip. Like a rose hip, a quince is attached directly to the branch of the plant (apples and pears have stems).
There are many culinary uses for rose hips. They can be used fresh, dried, or preserved and add flavor to applesauce, soups and stews, syrups, puddings, marmalades, tarts, bread, and pies, or, quite commonly made into jams or jellies. Just like quince.
Also, unlike apples and pears, quince is not typically eaten raw. They have an extremely astringent quality (even when perfectly ripe). They are hard to the point of being nearly impossible to bite into. If you were to get past all this and actually get one into your mouth you would experience a dry, cottony feeling on the tongue. The astringency is that powerful.
But, quince is indeed magical because with proper handling they are transformed. Cooking breaks down that astringency and they develop a delightfully complex “sweet and sour” quality.
Cooking the quince also makes them fantastically fragrant. Their heady, mildly tropical fragrance perfumes the whole kitchen, and reminds one of (you guessed it) a rose.
Like a rose, the aroma can be quite unique and individual to all the slight variations in species and culture. So their preparation offers a pleasant and unexpected bit of anticipation. Just what fragrance will be produced? You’ll have to cook some up to see for yourself. It can be wildly divergent. More magic from the quince!
As with most complex flavors, the quince can be further transformed by the pairing with other flavors. Herbal tones and anise flavors are particular interesting additions. But vanilla, chocolate, and other pome fruits bring completely different, but equally exciting flavor palettes.
Some wonderful jams, jellies, and pastes are made using these flavor combinations. This is the way most people today are familiar with the quince. But its uses are wide and varied.
When it comes to pairing food, I like to push the envelope. In the attached recipe and video I pair sweetly poached, vanilla scented quince slices with barely sweet goat cheese and a rich walnut cookie dough in a very sophisticated tasting tart. It may seem an unusual combination, but if Laverne De Fazio can pair milk with Pepsi, you should be able to trust me about quince and goat cheese.
Oh, I don’t mention this in the recipe, but save all the poaching liquid. After you have poached the whole pears; cored and sliced them for the tart. You may add the cores and seeds to the poaching liquid. Those little seeds release so much pectin, flavor, and color that once strained and cooled you will get a delicious and unusual loose jelly or thick sauce. Delicious on nut bread, but in conjunction with pink pepper corns also a great combination with pork, or (he said decadently) with Foie gras!
So you see, there is magically attached to the quince. From its unlikely parentage with the rose, right down to the pips!
SERIOUS FUN FOOD