Article: On Quinces

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On Quinces

By Dunstana Talana the Violet (Posted to the Northkeep Email list, November 4, 2011

When Ian Dun Gillan said, "I am sure enduring the smell of cooking Quince is likely comparable to bone or horn work," Talana provided the following refutation:

Not. Oh, so very not. I cannot say how not.

Quinces are part of the botanical family Rosaceae, which includes roses, apples, plums, cherries, strawberries, almonds, apricots, and raspberries. They originated in Asia and the Near East, but had spread to Europe by the Classical Greek period, and are mentioned in Roman cookery texts. They've been a staple of European cookery ever since.

As the fruit ripens, it gives off a "perfume" (which is the smell Diarmaid fusses about), which is floral and can be quite strong.

You can't eat them raw, unless they have first been "bletted," which means exposed to freezing temperatures. Persimmons and medlars are two other fruits that are too puckery to eat before bletting.

Quinces have a ton of pectin, a water-soluble fiber that is what makes jelly stiffen. Before commercial pectin was available, adding an apple or a quince to your jelly fruit was a way to make sure the jelly would "set."

Quince paste (membrillo) is a traditional dessert item in the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries, and is typically eaten with cheese (Manchego is a favorite). You see it for sale around here at Christmas time, for a ridiculous price.

Quince preserves are popular in Arabic and Lebanese dishes. Quince jelly was a traditional accompaniment to a Michelmas goose in Europe.