Have you ever seen Quince blossoms? The beautiful salmon coloured flowers with its cluster of bright yellow stamens can brighten up any wet spring day and make wonderful cut flowers that lasts for a couple of weeks. I can barely resist buying a bunch if I see them at a florist.
The fruit is equally seductive – especially when they start to ripen and the perfume wafts throughout the room its in. The aroma is a cross between pineapple, guava, apple and pear and is an almost candy-like scent, sweet and floral at the same time. I could honestly sniff the fruit for hours as a form of aromatherapy!
Here in Australia, Barossa food icon Maggie Beer (http://www.maggiebeer.com.au/) is the queen of quince and has definitely brought the fruit back into fashion with her quince paste and a willingness to teach Australians to take advantage of the wonderful fruit that grows practically wild all over temperate areas of Australia. Quince are high in pectin so are great for jelly and fruit cheese. Most commercial varieties are yellow, slightly fuzzy and are too tannic (astringent) to eat raw and must be cooked. What’s amazing is that once cooked, Quince take on the most amazing transformation to a dark rose hue.
Quince picked green and less ripe are good for jelly but if you want to make quince paste or stew them, leave the in the fruit bowl to perfume up the house and ripen – just make sure the skin isn’t starting to wrinkle but if they are, you may still be able to salvage them for pureed quince. When I have an abundance of quince, I always make *quince paste and then with the remainder, I quarter the fruit and cook until tender and preserve them in a light syrup (with vanilla bean) made from the poaching liquid. Poached quince is gorgeous as an accompaniment to roast duck and pork and makes a change from the apples, cherries and plums used to go along with meat. Quince slices can also be added to apple pie and I once made a BBQ sauce for ribs with quince paste and it was lovely (if only I had written down the recipe!)
About three weeks ago, my chef friend from Hawaii (who now lives in Australia) came to visit and we took her to the Adelaide Hills wine region famous for their Sauvignon Blancs and also for their abundant produce and quaint little towns. We were on our way to a winery when I spotted at least three large quince trees by the side of the road (next to a huge vacant lot) right off the highway exit! I yelled out to my husband to turn around and go back. He is so used to me finding food growing wild by the side of the road that he doesn’t even question when I tell him to turn the car around. When we pulled up to the trees, the side that was easily accessible by passersby was a bit bare but my friend and husband climbed over the fence to get my loot of quince! I am very clumsy (and decided that it wasn’t worth a trip to hospital) so I stayed over the safe side and held out a bag for collection and took the photos. My friend had never seen quinces growing on a tree before (it doesn’t grow in the tropics) and when she grabbed her first one, she yelled out in surprise, “It’s fuzzy!” I guess since they look like apples, the fuzziness was a bit of a surprise.
*Quince paste is not as common in the USA (yet) but here in South Australia, you will find a small chunk of it on cheese platters and makes a very good accompaniment to many different cheeses. My favourite would probably be goat or blue cheese with quince paste.