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For a taste of autumn try yellow quince

By Elizabeth RielySpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / October 6, 1982

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.

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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.