Quince trees are not commonly grown in the Midwest, but they will grow. (More commonly grown in much warmer climates – see map here.) They will even survive 16 years of mostly neglect. Although we had serious disease problems last year, this year, I have several baskets full of baseball- to softball- sized quince fruits. They were mostly picked on Thursday evening (10/26), ahead of the freeze. Some have turned yellow and smell quite fragrant at the blossom end – these are ripe enough to cook with. The green ones need to wait in a cool area for a while, maybe even a month, before they will be ready.
Quince is one of those fruits that medieval re-enactors will come across in books, but never try, for lack of access. It is high in pectin and vitamin C, and will keep well, which accounts for the many recipes for quince preserves of some type or another. The Spanish name for Quince, marmelo, is where we get the name, “marmalade.” It is also reputed to have medicinal effects, perfect for those who want to cook following humoral theory. Sources include Discordes Herbal. There are a number of online redactions of period recipes – here, here, here, and here.
For those who have considered using quince – here are some photos and descriptions to help you learn about what it is like to cook with them.
Baskets of harvested Quince
A few in good condition (apples for comparison).
Many times, the quince are blown off the trees or fall, and get some damage. Notice the size compared to Red Delicious apples. Because they are a hard fruit, even nibbling by a critter doesn’t rot the fruit. Quinces are one of the fruits said to “Blet”, or ripen to a soft brown tasty mush. I have some that have that happening. (Because it has been a week and a half, and the quinces are still in the baskets.) I’m curious is this is normal rot or Bletting. I will say there are not any fruit flies, nor is it spreading to other fruits. I’ll have to let you know.
When you smell the blossom end, it should smell fragrant if ripe. The smell the two baskets produces is very noticeable when I walk into the house.
A quince has a woody, stringy core, much like many pears. The seeds pockets are similar to apples, but more in a horizontal plane, rather than stretching out along the vertical axis of the fruit. There are multiple seeds in each pocket.
The fruit will oxidize some when cut. This fruit is much more work to cut than an apple. Be sure you don’t cut yourself with the additional force needed. You will want to remove the skins and woody core for most recipes. Some have you simmer the quartered fruit a long time, and then just strain the juice.
The fruit going into a 20 min simmer shows the brown oxidization, and pale flesh. This was 4 quinces, peeled, cored, and diced.
After the simmer, it is a lovely golden yellow, and the brown has disappeared. The longer you cook the quince, it is supposed to turn from golden yellow to a lovely pink even red.
I used the drained quinces in a bread pudding, and it was the perfect fruit – it didn’t get mushy, but it wasn’t hard or chewy either.
I used the remaining simmering water in a spiced apple cider. The liquid was also yellowish and smelled nice. I’m not certain how crucial the quince was to the success of the finished product. But I quite enjoyed it.
If you would be interested in playing with some quince, contact me. I can deliver to Calontir’s Toys for Tots in 2 weeks. Some might still be available at Kris Kinder. Or we can make arrangements to get you some next season.