While quince fruit may seem somewhat uncommon today, that wasn’t always the case. It was so ubiquitous, in fact, that it is believed the fruit eaten by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden was actually a quince and not an apple. There are countless quince references in ancient history. A symbol of love and fertility, quince fruit is known to have health benefits to regulate blood pressure, lower inflammation, reduce metabolic stress, relieve digestive issues and reduce pregnancy induced nausea.
A quince is the fruit of a small tree or shrub from the Rose family. It is known to be native to Iran, Turkey and possibly even Greece. Quince plants have beautiful flowers that are pink or white, similar to flowers on a pear or apple. The fruit is golden yellow and may be round and flattened or somewhat pear-shaped, although the outer appearance looks more lumpy than a pear. Its flesh is firm like an apple, yet spongy. The taste is quite astringent, which makes eating it not as simple as just biting into the fruit.
Quince is most commonly consumed after baking or boiling the fruit. They are delicious in jams, preserves, jelly, puddings, and stew. Just cooking a quince is quite exciting as the fruit turns a beautiful shade of pink. The scent of the fruit is strongly perfumed, but not overbearing. The aroma is sweet, floral and fresh and some have coined it “The scent of winter”. Because of this unique fragrance, quince is often used in making wine and cider (and has been known to yield a high alcohol content due to the residual sugars). Quince has been used in rooms as natural air fresheners and even in Ancient Greece, brides would eat a small piece of quince for good breath before going into the bridal chambers.
One of my personal favorite uses for quince fruit is membrillo, or quince cheese. This is a sweet, sliceable, firm, jelly-like paste made from the quince. The quince’s high pectin content helps provide structure to membrillo. Often served in Spain alongside Manchego cheese, it nicely balances a savory charcuterie board. You can find many recipes online to make membrillo, but it is essentially created by removing the peel and core from the quince fruit, dicing it up and putting it in a pot of sugar and water. Then, cook it down until it is stewed, add cardamom, cinnamon, or whichever spices you prefer, and puree. Once you pour it into a shallow dish, let it set. Then slice it up and serve! Yum! Winter is right around the corner and I encourage you to seek out this underrated fruit to incorporate into your stews or holiday pies.