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Don't Nobody Love a Quince?


Quince at a Glance
History Uses Name Origin Folklore/Oddities Medical Benefits
Growing Purchasing Preparation Recipe

Won't someone take this poor, unloved quince under wing? True, the quince doesn't have the great eye appeal of a shiny apple, or the brilliance of a persimmon. Its rather pale yellow, mottled skin, sour taste, and lumpy shape isn't enticing either. But . . .the quince is easily transformed into marmalades, jams, and jellies that have been revered for centuries throughout the Middle East and Europe. And wouldn't a generous dollop of quince preserve on whole-wheat toast make breakfast more enjoyable?

Quince, like the apple and guava, produces a natural pectin when cooked, making it ideal for jelling. Yet, while a multitude of fruits are turned into jams and preserves, this country's commercial jam companies have yet to bring a jar of quince marmalade, jam, or jelly to market. However, quince preserves are readily available in Middle Eastern markets throughout the country.

History
The homeland of the quince lies between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea, a mountainous region called the Caucasus that touches northern Turkey and Iran as well as Southern Georgia. A knobby, irregular shaped variety still grows wild in this part of the world.

Mention of quince appears in Greek writings about 600 BCE as a ritual item in wedding ceremonies. Pliny, a Roman naturalist and writer of the first century CE, was familiar with quince and mentioned it when he described the Mulvian variety, a cultivated quince, as the only one that could be eaten raw. Columella, another ancient naturalist, describes three other varieties he names as the sparrow apple, golden apple, and the must apple.

Quince Cultivation of the quince began in Mesopotamia, an area now Northern Iraq between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Between 200 and 100 BCE, this "golden apple" was cultivated by the Greeks as it traveled into the Eastern Mediterranean. The quince was actually cultivated prior to the apple and reached Palestine by 100 BCE. Reference to the apple in the Song of Solomon may not have been an apple at all but might have been a quince instead.

Did Eve really bite into an apple that she plucked off the forbidden tree of knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden? No specific name is given to the fruit she tasted from that tree, though apples are mentioned later in the Bible. Some historians believe Eve's fruit of temptation might have been a pomegranate or possibly even a quince.

Following the battles for power between the Arabs and the Byzantines circa 763 CE, the Arabs moved their capital from Damascus to create the walled city of Baghdad. Beyond the walls a melting pot of communities took up residence and brought goods and foods from the East. From China travelers brought cinnamon and rhubarb to trade. Some went to India to return with coconuts. Others traveled to Isfahan in Persia for quinces, apples, saffron, and salt.

Charlemagne was partly responsible for introducing the quince into France with his orders in the year 812 to plant trees in the royal garden. Even Chaucer mentions quince using the name coines, a word that comes from the French coing.

During the 18th century, when Australia and New Zealand were becoming colonized, Australia began to raise sheep but became dependent on many imported foods brought by ships traveling from Britain. New Zealand, however, fell back on the Maori culture for fresh fruits and vegetables including quince, though how the quince reached New Zealand is not commonly known. It may have arrived by ship from England, but a more likely prospect is that the quince traveled eastward through India, China, and Japan and finally south to New Zealand.

Quince enjoyed the spotlight only briefly during the colonial period in New England. A March 16, 1629 entry in the Massachusetts Bay Colony's Memorandum listed quince as one of the seeds requested from England. By 1720 quince was thriving in Virginia. Many home gardens throughout the colonies were reaping a fall harvest from their quince trees; however, apples quickly snatched the spotlight from the quinces.

When European and Near Eastern immigrants began to settle in the New World, they planted quince in North America. Americans had become accustomed to sweet fruits like the apple and found little about the quince to favor. Quince grew traveling legs as the westward movement took hold in the United States. In the 1850's a Texan who owned a large land grant grew many fruit trees on his property. Among them was quince, along with peach, fig, raspberry, pomegranate, and plum.

Unpopular for most of its existence in the United States, the quince was more successful in some Latin American countries, especially Uruguay. A Spanish explorer of the nineteenth century visited Chile and wrote about quinces that were quite acidic and astringent, but that developed a sweetness if allowed to fully ripen on the tree. This may explain why the common practice of eating raw quinces in South America and Mexico surprised early explorers who only experienced them as hard and acidic. Humans tend to develop a palate for foods that have become part of their diet from childhood and are less apt to accept foods that are strange looking and have unappealing flavor.

In the Middle East quince is considered a common food, and, though it is sour, is eaten raw as well as cooked. Quince is also popular in Germany and South Africa, countries whose cuisine tends to be quite fatty. The quince with its high acidity counteracts the greasiness of the foods and is often served in the form of a sauce like applesauce as an accompaniment to fatty meats.

Today, the quince is relegated to the specialty fruit list in the United States where there are very few trees in production to bring quince to its limited market. However, the quince excels among fruits in other countries and is widely grown in Turkey, South America, and throughout the Mediterranean.

Folklore and Oddities
Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, was known to consider apples sacred. Historians believe the apple favored by Aphdrodite were really quince. The legendary golden apple of Hesperides that Paris gave to Aphrodite was really a quince.

The ancient Greeks considered quinces to be the symbol of fertility and dedicated them to the goddess of love.

An Athenian wedding tradition of the ancient Greeks had friends and family tossing quinces into the bridal chariot as the groom was escorting his bride to her new home. Once they arrived, the bride ate a ceremonial cake flavored with honey and sesame. To insure fertility, she was then presented a quince.

One myth says that pregnant women who indulge their appetites in generous quantities of quinces will give birth to industrious and highly intelligent children.

Quince Known by Many Names
The Greeks referred to the ordinary quince as strythion but with their skills in cultivating fruits and vegetables, developed a finer quality in an area called Kydonia on the island of Crete. The new variety was eventually named Cydoni or mela Kudonia translated as apples of Cydonia. Quince

The Romans also favored the quince and sweetened their quince preserves with honey. They took the Greek word for "honey apple" and called the quince melimelum.

Other names given to the quince include coines, coing, Cydonian apple, elephant apple, maja pahit, ma-tum, pineapple quince, quitte, and vilvam.

Medicinal Benefits
In Medieval times, Europeans thought quinces aided the digestion and prepared them frequently along with meats. The English called the combination chardeqynce meaning flesh of quince.

Quince Enjoyed in Various Cuisines
Apicius, Rome's first cookbook author, first century CE, preserved whole quinces with their stems and leaves attached in a bath of honey diluted with defrutum, a newly prepared wine that is spiced and reduced by boiling.

Another quince dish prepared by Apicius, Patina de Cydoniis, combines them with leeks, honey, and broth in hot oil.

The earliest true preserves came about during classical times when quinces were cooked with honey and vinegar, a combination that produced a gel or pectin-like quality.

From the15th century to the present, Cotignac d'Orleans, a clear gel made from boiled quince juice and sugar, is set into small wooden boxes to form confections. These treats were originally presented to French royalty in honor of their visit to cities and outlying villages. Cotignac is still available in some areas of France and is known by other names in Spain and the Middle East.

When Joan of Arc arrived in Orleans in 1429 to liberate the French from the English, she received the honored gift of cotignac.

The English, during the 16th and 17th centuries, delighted in preparing many variations of quince preserves which they called quidoniac, quiddony, marmelade or paste of Genoa. The preserves formed a thick paste that could be shaped into animals or flower forms. Though the quince paste is rarely found in England today, a coarse version, called membrillo, is a favorite treat presently served along with cheese in Spain.

In 1570 Pope Pius V gave a spectacular banquet that featured as its piece de resistance, a quince pastry that required "one quince per pastry."

Hindus prepare a quince sambal by pounding peeled quinces with onions, hot peppers, salt and a little orange juice into a coarse puree to serve as a condiment very much like chutney.

Stews that combine sour fruits, such as quince, with meats are traditional foods in Iran and still remain popular today. Iranians also peel and core the quince and stuff the cavity with meat stew.

Moroccan cuisine incorporates the quince in its highly seasoned tagines, stew-like combinations of meats and dried fruits often spiced with cinnamon and cloves.

In Britain quince was incorporated into the cuisine in various pies and tarts, often appearing in apple pies where it added a unique flavor and a hint of pink coloring. The British also prepared a sauce made from quince that became a traditional accompaniment to roasted partridge.

The ancestor of our American baked apple filled with raisins and nuts was no doubt the quince. The British were filling quince cavities with sugar and baking them long before Americans were baking apples. The British were also fond of marmalades and jellies made from quince, but these sweet spreads began to lose their popularity during the 20th century.

Although the most favored quince marmalade, called marmelada, originated Portugal during the 1500's, the British were preparing many versions of marmalade from quince well into1600's. Joining the marmalade brigade is the Italian version called cotognate, a preserve that is still prepared in Southern Italy today.

Korean scholars of the 1700's and 1800's had great influence on the revival of tea drinking. Among the many teas they considered superior to Chinese teas were fruit teas sweetened with honey. Quince, along with citron, dates, pears, strawberries, cherries, watermelon and peaches, was made into delicious and fragrant fruit teas.

Interestingly, quince marmalade was commonplace centuries before orange marmalade, which didn't arrive on the scene until 1790 when it was created in Dundee, Scotland.

Quince cheese, an old New England specialty of the 1700's, required all-day boiling of quince preserves to achieve a solidified state, probably similar to the French specialty cotignac.

Alternative Uses for the Quince
Pruned branches of the quince tree are very hardy and make excellent kindling wood.

The whole quince fruits are so fragrant at room temperature they were used in ancient times to perfume the room, much as we use room fresheners today.

With their naturally pleasing aroma, quinces make ideal bases for pomanders studded with cloves and hung as decorations or given as gifts during the Christmas season.

Growing
Though the quince has had many names bestowed upon it, the true scientific names are Cydonia oblongata or C. vulgaris. There are two main varieties; the more rounded variety is highly acidic and is used mainly for making confections and jams. The cultivar that more closely resembles the pear in appearance tends to be slightly sweeter, though it is not considered a sweet fruit.

Quince Because of its pear-shaped appearance and approximate pear size and pale yellow color, the quince was considered part of the pear family by plant historians who named it Pyrus cydonia, a name that was shortlived. The quince is actually part of the rose family, Rosaceae, that includes pears and apples; however, it stands uniquely apart because of its intense perfume-like fragrance, its tartness, and unusual growing habits.

The quince tree is small, only about 12 to 20 feet in height, compared to many other fruit trees that easily reach 30 feet and higher. Interestingly, pears are frequently grown on quince rootstock to prevent the trees from growing too high for convenient harvesting. The quince possesses an independent nature, though, and will not hybridize with the pear. Another demonstration of the quince's self-reliance is its ability to self-fertilize.

Quince trees are deciduous, very hardy, and thrive well for approximately 30 years. They characteristically grow into bushy twisted and contorted shapes and require very little care. In spring the trees flower with single, large pink or white flowers that are reminiscent of apple blossoms. The unopened flower bud of some varieties has red stripes that evoke memories of an old barber pole.

Not many fruit trees grow easily from seed, but quince will, though it is usually best to purchase a small tree that has been grown from established rootstock.

With their shallow roots, quince trees thrive in moist soil, prefer temperate climates, and require protection from harsh cold or wind. In its favor, the quince rarely suffers from insect problems.

The tree's natural tendency is to grow in a scraggly fashion. Minimal pruning is needed for quince but may be helpful in eliminating unwanted suckers or heading-back interfacing branches.

Appealing as an ornamental, the quince offers attractive foliage, spring flowers, autumn colors, and an artistic appearance with its winter-bare entwining branches. While the spring blossoms provide food for beneficial insects, the autumn fruits left on the tree offer nourishment for birds and squirrels. The tree can be successfully planted in a lawn setting with a single tree producing ample fruit for cooking and feeding the wildlife.

Purchasing
Quinces are a seasonal fruit available in the early fall through January, though in some areas they may still be purchased through February and March. Though most large grocery chains will have quinces available in the fall, the consumer may have to look a little harder to find them in a tiny corner of the produce section. Not big sellers, quinces are considered a specialty item.

Ethnic markets that specialize in Middle Eastern items will definitely have quinces during the fall season. They are familiar fruits throughout the Middle East.

Quinces can be round, oval or somewhat pear shaped. Their appearance resembles a golden apple or pear. Choose those that are firm with a pale yellow skin. The yellow skin is often somewhat mottled with brown spots that don't affect the flavor or quality. Quinces that are shriveled, soft, or brown all over are no longer fresh.

Most varieties of quince are rock hard and quite sour, though in the 1990's a sweeter variety called the "apple quince" was developed and can be eaten raw. Because of their firmness and sour taste, quinces are almost always peeled, sweetened, and cooked, frequently into preserves. In the cooking process, the flesh turns a delicate pink and emits a delightful perfume-like fragrance

Storing
If the quinces are not completely yellow, store them at room temperature until they are fully ripened, yellow all over, and emit a pleasant aroma. They should then be used quickly or they will become mealy.

If you don't plan to use the ripe quince immediately, then store them in the refrigerator where they will keep up to two weeks. However, it's best to store them apart from apples and pears because their penetrating aroma may affect the other fruits.

Raw
Unless the sweet variety of quinces are available, they are too acidic and astringent to be eaten raw.

Cooked
Quince has the firmness of a hard winter squash, so be sure to use a large, firm chef's knife to cut it into halves, quarters, or slices. Peeling works well with a vegetable peeler or a small paring knife. Remove the core with a small, very firm paring knife. Quince

A slice or two of peeled quince added to apples or pears while they cook will add appealing flavor and aroma to the dish.

Quince makes an excellent fruit sauce similar to applesauce. Though the flesh is white when raw, it turns a delicate pink when cooked. Peel a few quinces, slice them with a very firm knife, and remove the seeds. Cook them in a small amount of water with plenty of sweetener of choice until they reach a pulpy consistency like applesauce. Mash or puree in a food processor, and serve as a dessert or accompaniment to savory dishes.

Quince sauce makes an excellent companion to potato latkes (pancakes).

A modern adaptation of Quince Cheese involves coarsely chopping quinces and oranges and cooking them in a small amount of water until they become pulpy. Next they are strained, combined with sugar, and simmered for almost 2 hours. A drop or two of orange blossom water or rose water is added. Then, the mixture is turned into an oiled bowl, sealed, and stored for about three months. The "cheese" is then unmolded onto a platter and served as an accompaniment to savory dishes.

Quince Jelly
Making quince jelly is easy and delicious. A jar of this special jelly also makes a well-appreciated homemade gift. When making the jelly, do not peel the quinces, and do not discard the seeds. Include them in the cooking process to enhance the jelling process.

To make a batch of quince jelly, combine in a large stock pot 20 large Granny Smith or Rome Beauty apples cut into eighths, 1 dozen quartered quinces, and 2 quarts currants. Cover this mixture with water and cook until softened. Spoon cooked mixture into several layers of cheesecloth or a fine mesh bag with small openings. Hang the bag from kitchen faucet over a large bowl or pot and allow to drain overnight to extract all juice. The solid pulp can be reboiled for a second batch, if desired.

For each cup of juice, add 1 cup sugar and reboil to dissolve sugar. Pour into hot sterilized jars, seal, and store in cool dry place.


It's unfortunate that quinces seldom receive much recognition in American cooking. They truly are one of the many gems of Persian origin and are prized for the delicious jams and jellies made from them. Similar to apples in texture, quinces are a bit drier, firmer, and far more tart, which makes them an ideal fruit to use in baking. Qunces are very receptive to seasonings and spices and are easily peeled with a vegetable peeler. The challenge is cutting them-they are super tough and require a knife with a firm blade, such as a chef's knife and a paring knife for the detailed trimming. Be sure to allow them plenty of baking time to soften.

QUINCE ESSENTIAL APPLE CRISP

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (Gas Mark 4) and have ready a lightly oiled, 3-quart (3 liter) baking dish. Stir the sliced quinces and apples together in a large bowl and toss with the lemon juice.
  2. Combine the walnuts, raisins, brown sugar, pastry flour, rolled oats, sesame seeds, cinnamon, cardamom, and salt in a separate large bowl, toss well, add to the quince-apple bowl. Mix well to distribute the spices evenly.
  3. Stir together the maple syrup, water, rose water, and vanilla extract in the medium bowl and add to the quince and apple bowl, mixing thoroughly. Spoon the mixture into the prepared baking pan and cover with aluminum foil, shiny side down.
  4. Bake for 45 minutes, remove the aluminum foil, and bake 10 to 15 minutes longer. Fork test the quinces for tenderness. If they are tender, remove the baking dish from the oven, cool slightly, and serve warm.

Note:
Quince Essential Apple Crisp can be made a day or two ahead and gently reheated at 350 degrees (Gas Mark 4) for 15 minutes. If the baking dish is glass and is taken from the refrigerator, start warming it in a cold oven to avoid cracking the glass.

For an extravagant dessert, spoon a portion of the baked Quince Essential Apple Crisp into a bowl and top with a generous scoop of soy-based vanilla ice cream.


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