The first frost arrived last week along with one of my favorite seasonal fruits at Central Farm Markets – quinces! Not exactly a mainstream attraction, yet this pear-like pome has its own cultish following who seeks them out to make seasonal culinary favorites including pastes, butters and tarts. Quinces also fare very well with savory dishes.
Quinces were popular in early America, cultivated throughout the mid-Atlantic region, most notably at Monticello by Jefferson. I’ve been passing the Quince Orchard Road exit on the way to market for how many years?
Native to Asia, quinces first migrated to the Mediterranean during the Roman and Greek empires, making their way around the globe in the following millennia, most often prized for medicinal purposes. Quinces are high in vitamin C, full of antioxidants, loaded with dietary fiber and rich in minerals including iron, copper and zinc.
Cydonia oblong is a one-off, a solitary member of its genus belonging to the same family as apples and pears, Rosaceae. Similar in cultivation, shape and size to apples and pears, quinces grow from deciduous trees and shrubs. You can’t miss quinces at the market with their fuzzy appearance and brilliant, almost neon color.
Unlike apples and pears, quinces don’t bode well for snacking on raw due to their astringent pucker factor and dry, chalky, hardness. However, a little heat unlocks their sweetness and softens their consistency. Widely cultivated in Spain, dulce de membrillo is a sweet paste made from quinces and traditionally served with Manchego cheese.
Naturally high in tannins, quinces are a natural tenderizer when cooked with meat. Quinces are prized for making jellies, jams and preserves due to their high pectin content. Firmer than either apples or pears, quince flesh holds its shape when baked into pies and pastries or cooked in compote.
Quinces have held a place in literature and art throughout history. From speculation that it was a quince and not an apple that tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden to the sacred emblem of Aphrodite, these golden fruits have been referenced for at least 4,000 years. Quinces were served in the court of Charles II during the 17th century and distilled into a delicate liqueur de coing in France.
With Thanksgiving only weeks away, quinces would make an excellent addition to cranberry sauce recipes that call for either apple or pears.
Even if you have no desire to eat quinces, they are aesthetically pleasing and have a fragrant aroma that lends well to sitting in a lovely bowl to naturally perfume your home. But trust me, you will want to enjoy their taste as well as their scent.
Quinces can be found at all Central Farm Markets locations.