Three weeks ago I realized it was time for my annual quince quest. Around the time that other folks are thinking of apple cider and corn mazes, hayrides and bonfires, my internal quince-o-meter goes off, and I begin sniffing around for a way to get my fix. I've been disappointed in recent years, but this year I hit the jackpot.
You guys, I have 20 pounds of quince in my kitchen. Here's why that is such a good thing.
Every year around this time I indulge my obsession and bring some quince-ucation to The Kitchn. These fruits are an exercise in delayed gratification and trust, as eaten raw they are tough and astringent. But when cooked they transform into rosy pink slices of fragrant fruit, with tones of apple and pear and something else exotic, floral, and indefinably quince.
They are old-fashioned fruits, growing on beautiful trees that are still sometimes planted for their lovely flowers but not often cultivated for their fruit. They also grow easily in nearly every corner of the country and throughout Central and Eastern Europe. A commercial apple orchard might tuck one or two quince trees off to the side, or a neighbor might have a half-forgotten tree in the back yard. They're certainly not a commercial crop like apples or pears, and so some of their attraction for me lies in the tension of the hunt. I can find them for $2/apiece at Whole Foods (sometimes) but I always crave more.
And this year my hunt paid off. A little help from my Facebook friends led me to a farmer at the market who had several quince trees. I emailed him and the next Saturday I met him at the market and picked up a heavy sack of these unprepossessing fruits.
I plopped them down on a picnic table and immediately attracted the attention of another market-goer, a middle-aged woman who looked at the fruit and drawled, "I haven't seen those since my grandmother's quince pie when I was a little girl! It's been years and years." She went on to quiz me as to where I had found them, and I pointed out Steve, my new best farmer friend, and we chatted a little more about quince.
This is part of what I love about this fruit — it's so distinct, so unusual. Imagine striking up a conversation with people at the market about a sack of Red Delicious apples — not so likely. It's also a local fruit, a fruit to be found in a neighbor's garden, or in a corner of a farm — not a commodity to be bought by the bushel in the grocery store. And while I wouldn't want to expend so much effort into every single thing I eat, the narrative that goes along with quince is a part of their shape and their taste.
So — what am I doing with all these? Cooking slices with sugar and vanilla, and packing them into freezer bags to use in pies, crumbles, and tarts — and to spoon over my oatmeal all winter long. They're a treat, and a special one. (I think I'll also use a few in some jars of quince BOOZE FROOT, which I highly recommend!)
Do you cook with quince? Can you find it where you live?
(Images: Faith Durand)