Have you ever tried a quince? If you're like most Americans, probably not. The fruit isn't nearly as well loved as its relatives, apples and pears, largely because it has an—undeserved—reputation for being inedible when raw, hard to cook, and even harder to grow. But that's all changing as people get more adventurous with their cooking. And what better time to try something new in your kitchen than now, when quinces are at the height of their season and other fresh fruits are disappearing from markets?
Delicately tart and aromatic, quinces feature prominently in the cuisines of the Middle East, North Africa, the Mediterranean, and South America, areas where the fruit has been grown for centuries. Quinces taste almost tropical, with a flavor that conjures up a combination of pineapple, guava, apple, and pear.
In the U.S., California is the only state that grows quinces on a commercial scale, though smaller farms across the country are beginning to experiment with growing them. (Tip: Talk to fruit farmers at your local farmer's market. They may sell quinces but not have them on display, and you may be able to place an order for them.) California quinces are harvested around mid-August and sold mostly at gourmet and ethnic grocery stores through January.
The 7 Best Fruits to Eat All Winter
When buying quinces, select large, firm, bright-yellow fruits that have a tropical, somewhat floral aroma. A green or scent-free fruit is unripe, and a soft quince is spoiled. You can store quinces at room temperature or in the refrigerator for a month or so.
Knobby, golden quinces are not only a good source of fiber and copper, but also a very good source of vitamin C—one quince provides 23 percent of your daily requirement for the vitamin, while apples and pears provide only 10 percent.
What to Do with Them
The firm, fuzzy-skinned fruits are best poached, baked, or stewed, as cooking transforms them from sour and hard to spicy, fruity, and tender. They even change color when cooked, developing a rosy hue.
That makes them ideal for impressive desserts that don't take much effort. For an easy (albeit not quick) dessert, bake cored quince halves topped with sugar at 250 degrees for 3 hours. Or poach quince halves in white wine and sugar until they turn the texture of a ripe, raw pear, and serve them with ice cream.
You may have sampled quince in a jellied paste form (a Spanish favorite called dulce de membrillo) at a tapas restaurant; it's often paired with Manchego cheese, a combination that's an easy appetizer or dessert you can recreate yourself with store-bought quince jam. Use the leftover jam in this recipe for Grilled Cheese and Quince sandwiches.
Homemade quince sauce simmered with little or no sugar makes a great accompaniment for turkey, duck, lamb, or venison. Sautéed slices of the fruit also work well alongside meats, and unlike apples and pears, the quinces won't dissolve into mush when cooked, which makes them a perfect, sweet-tart addition to slow-cooked winter braises and stews, such as this savory Middle-Eastern lamb stew.
No matter which preparation you choose, be sure to savor some quince when you're cooking this autumn—you'll be awfully glad you did!