A quince is the last hope of winter. Hard as a rock, tart, inedible when raw, and possessing an unbelivibly intoxicating aroma, the quince is a reminder that good can come from even the most barren and depressing landscape. A quince is full of so many metaphors it's almost too easy to list them here without feeling like a lazy writer. There's just something about this winter fruit I can relate to. The quince is kind of like a difficult person - you'll hate it at first, but if you give it some sugar, warmth, time, and patience, you'll see it was worth it. Or maybe you'll still hate it, but at least respect it.
The first time I ever held a raw quince was a number of years ago at Alana's. They had recently received a few bushels from a farmer and sent me home with four of them. I was so amazed by their aroma that for awhile I just walked around holding one to my nose. I was so amazed that something so hard and astringent could produce such a lovely aroma.
Inspired once again by Chef David Tanis' Heart of the Artichoke, I bought some quince of my own (a very few farmers have them around Thanksgiving, and they may also be found at Market District and Mediterranean Imports; they also grow wild in Ohio) and turned them into two wonderful products: preserve and quince syrup, which makes amazing gimlets... (recipe at end of preserve reserve)
Cooking quince takes very little active work, but it does take quite a bit of time. I might even use the slow cooker the next time, because I found 6 hours to be the right amount of time (this is far longer than other recipes I've read: I'm not sure if it's because I didn't have time to cook them all at one time or if my stove isn't very powerful or what, you will have to experiment on your own).
Don't skip the lemon juice at the end of the recipe! I find most commercial quince preservers far too sweet; the small hit of acidity prevents that sticky, cloying quality. Traditionally, quince preserve (aka membrillo, in Spain) is served with hard, aged cheeses such as Manchego (the aged sheep's milk cheese of Spain). I've discovered it's also nice with rich, sweet cheeses such as Mimolette and Beemster XO. It's also nice on toast with cream cheese, and makes a surprising foil to pork - it's actually quite a nice sandwich spread, with cured meats. Because quince contain loads of natural pectic, you will end up with a very thick paste, which can sometimes be sliced. The quince naturally turn red when cooked with sugar, which only adds to the mysterious beauty of this fruit.
4 ripe quince - they will never be soft; you can tell they are ripe if they are very yellow and smell wonderful at the ends
2 cups water
3 cups sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
Bring the water and sugar to a boil.
Peel the quinces; the peels tend to attach very securely to the starchy fruit inside, so be sure to use a very sharp peeler or pairing knife. Cut the "cheeks" away from the core, leaving the entire core whole, as a rectangle, so that the seeds and woody core bits are still contained inside. (See my tutorial on cleaning pomme fruits here)
Slice the fruit; add the fruit and the cores to the boiling water and turn to medium low, or low if you don't want to constantly monitor the progress. Begin checking the quince after 45 minutes. The slices will become very rosy and translucent when they are beginning to cook, however I noticed they still aren't done at this point. You really have to keep checking their doneness by removing a slice and cutting a small piece from it, and eating it. When it is very soft and sweet, it's ready.
When the quince are very soft, pull the cores from the pot and turn the heat off. Place a fine mesh sieve over a jar a strain off most of the liquid; what remains should be the sliced quince with enough syrup to coat, but not necessarily cover, the fruit. Set the jar aside to cool, this is your syrup!
To make the preserve, add the lemon juice to the slices, then use a stick blender and very thoroughly puree the quince slices; this takes a little longer than you might think, if you want the texture to be smooth and consistent. Once everything is smooth, place it in a container with an airtight lid, but don't cover yet. Allow the preserve to cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate. This lasts pretty much indefinitely if kept cold and away from things which are moldy.
The syrup is yummy on vanilla ice cream or added to other fruits. To make a quince gimlet, shake 3 ounces of vodka with 1/2 ounce each lime juice and quince syrup. Oh yes, it is yummy. Really yummy with just a light blush.