If we think of the quince at all, we think of it as quaintly old-fashioned. But this neglected autumn fruit, too bitter and hard to eat right off the tree, was once highly prized. It may even have been the pomodori, or golden apple, of classical myth.
The quince originates in Persia, where cultivated specimens are sweet enough to eat raw. In ancient Greece these golden apples were a symbolic part of the marriage ritual, a custom that traveled north with the Romans and may survive in rural England.
Legend tells us that Joan of Arc so loved quince that the people of Orleans presented the fruit to her upon her triumphal entry into the city. Certainly its popularity increased during the Renaissance, when it was often stewed with meats into rich and spicy puddings.
The colonists brought the quince to America, and not only for its keeping qualities. A charming narrow street in the center of old Philadelphia still bears the fruit's name, testifying to its favor. Alas, no gnarled trees stand today on Quince Street.
By the 19th century as many as 50 varieties were developed, including a Japanese ornamental shrub. Now only a handful of varieties are cultivated in the United States. It enjoys a happier fate in the Mediterranean, however, where it is made into marmalade and many regional specialties.
The quince is a small tree and is one of the prettiest of spring flowering fruit trees with its white and pale pink blossoms. The fruit itself looks like a cross between an apple and a pear and is, in fact, related to both. When ripe, the green skin turns golden, and the scent is highly fragrant.
The long cooking and generous amounts of sugar required for eating quince probably account for its current neglect. But its exquisite flavor amply rewards the patient. Not only does the aroma develop during long cooking: Curiously, the yellow flesh deepens into a beautiful amber red.
Delicious by itself in jellies, pies, and preserves, quince combines well with various foods. Besides other fruit, it also complements meat and fowl. The Greeks and Armenians often cook it with beef or lamb. In place of the more usual apples, quince is excellent with sauteed chicken or roast pork.
If you should discover a neglected quince tree in your yard consider yourself lucky. Here are some recipes to help you turn the strange fruit into golden apples.
However you decide to serve this dish, it brings to mind the slices of quince Edward Lear's owl and pussycat ate with a runcible spoon. Poached Sliced Quince 3 large quinces
About 3 cups water 2 cups sugar 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 2 strips orange peel cut into julienne Peel, core, and thinly slice quinces. Put into a pot with enough water barely to cover fruit and seasonings. Gently simmer, covered, for about 40 minutes, until flesh is tender and liquid is rosy pink. Serve warm or cold.
You may spoon the slices over ice cream or serve them in bowls with a dollop of sour cream in the middle. Or puree the fruit and swirl some lightly whipped cream into the puree to make quince fool. To please jaded palates, add raisins and curry powder for an unusual and delicious compote. Chopped preserved ginger or dates also make an excellent garnish. Makes 6 servings.
Instead of pork, you may use beef or lamb in this recipe, substituting beef stock. Whichever meat you use, rice or bulgur goes well. If you have any fresh mint left in your garden, garnish stew with some sprigs. Pork and Quince Stew 3 tablespoons butter 1 medium onion, chopped 1 garlic clove, minced 21/2 pounds pork, cut into 1-inch cubes About 4 cups chicken stock 1/2 teaspoon coriander 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg 2 cloves 1 sp lemon peel 3 medium quinces, peeled, cored, and quartered
Melt half the butter in a wide frying pan and saute onion and garlic until wilted. With slotted spoon remove to covered casserole. Add remaining butter to pan and gradually brown pork on all sides.
Put browned pork into casserole and deglaze pan with 1/2 cup stock. Pour into casserole with enough additional stock to cover meat generously. Season with spices and lemon peel. Cover and bring slowly to a boil. Add quince quarters to the stew and simmer gently for 1 hour.
Cool and refrigerate, then discard the solidified layer of fat on top. Before serving, slowly simmer 30 minutes more. Do not boil stew, or quince may crack and disintegrate. You may thicken liquid with a tablespoon of arrowroot first mixed to a paste with a little broth. Makes 6 servings.
These baked quince cups can be served as an accompaniment to roast chicken, duck, or pork, or for dessert with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The subtle flavor suggests apricots. Baked Quince Cups For each serving: 1 quince 2 tablespoons honey 1 tablespoon sultana raisins 1 tablespoon chopped walnuts Dash allspice
Peel, halve, and core one quince per serving. Place core side down in shallow baking dish and drizzle half the honey over them. Pour 1/4 inch water into the bottom of the pan, to keep the juices from scorching. Bake in a preheated 350 -degree F. oven for 30 minutes.
Carefully turn quince halves over and stuff hollows with combined raisins and walnuts. Top with dash of allspice and more honey. Pour a little more water into pan and bake another half hour. Spoon some syrup over each cup and serve warm or chilled. Honeyed Quince Tart 1 9-inch almond pastry shell, baked, recipe follows 3 or 4 medium quinces Honey
Brush bottom of baked pastry shell with thin layer of honey. Carefully peel, core, and cut quinces into even slices. Arrange overlapping each other in pretty design on pastry. Gently brush surface of slices with more honey, taking care not to disturb pattern.
Bake tart in preheated 400-degree F. oven for 30 minutes. If edges of pastry brown too quickly, cover with foil. Serve tart warm or chilled with sour cream flavored with a little cinnamon.
Variation: In place of the honey, an apricot glaze, made from preserves melted and thinned with a little0nater, gives the tart a warm and beautiful glow. Almond Pastry Shell 1/4 cup blanched almonds 1 ounce sugar 7/8 cup flour 3 ounces sweet butter, frozen, cut into smaller pieces 1 egg Dash salt
Grind almonds in food processor until coarsely, not finely, ground. Add other ingredients and process just until ball forms on metal blades. Wrap dough in plastic and chill for at least 30 minutes.
Roll dough out thinly and put in 9-inch tart pan. (If weather is hot or dough softens too quickly to handle, roll between two pieces of plastic wrap; or make a pancake and pat dough out in pan with your fingers.)
Trim, prick well, and chill uncooked pie shell until firm. Line with tinfoil or waxed paper and weight it with dried beans or rice. Bake it in a preheated 400 degree F. oven for 10 minutes; then remove beans and liner and bake 10 minutes longer unfilled. Cool.