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The Quince (Cydonia oblonga) is a relative of the apple and pear and belongs to the pome fruit family. Quince is one of the earliest known fruits, and may be similar to what apples and pears were like in their ancient forms. For over 4,000 years, quince trees have grown in Asia and the Mediterranean. Native to the Caucasus and Iran, the quince was known as the ‘Pear of Cydonia’. They are also thought have been the ‘golden apples’ of Greek Mythology.
Today, the quince is also found in Latin America, the Middle East, and the United States, but is much less important commercially than the apple or pear. The quince as we know it in the United States is a different fruit from that found in Western Asia and tropical countries, where the fruit is softer and more juicy. In colder climates, the fruit has a fine, handsome shape, a rich golden color when ripe, and a strong flowery fragrance, judged by some to be heavy and overpowering.
In the raw form, the rind is rough and woolly, and the flesh is hard and unpalatable, with an astringent, acidulous taste because they are high in tannins. Quince is an excellent fruit for preserves, may be stewed with meat (the tannins help tenderize meat), made to compotes, and used in apple stews for flavor.
Quince oxidizes rapidly once cut, and must be preserved in acidulated water to prevent discoloration. Unripe quince is extremely astringent. Ripe fruits’ astringency is balanced with sweetness.
In hotter countries, the woolly rind disappears and the fruit can be eaten raw. Because it’s rarely used in its raw form in the United States, the hard and dry flesh of the quince turns light pink to purple, becoming softer and sweeter when it’s cooked. Because of the astringent, tart flavor, quinces are commonly made into preserves and jellies. When prepared as jelly, it tastes like a cross between an apple and a pear. Sometimes the quince smells like a tropical fruit.
Select fruit that are large, firm, and yellow with little or no green. Quinces should be picked when full-yellow and firm. Quinces must be handled carefully as they bruise easily.
Wrap quinces in a plastic bag and refrigerate them for up to 2 months.
Quinces are not eaten fresh because of their astringency (due to high tannin content). Because of its high pectin content, it’s particularly popular for use in jams, jellies, and preserves. Quinces tend to hold their shape, so they are ideal for poaching, stewing, or baking as a dessert.
This fragrant fruit is available September through January.
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