October 25th, 2011

Quince Quest

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Serendipity and A Tale of Quinces

I had never seen a quince, let alone eaten one, but the benevolent forces aligned last week…

It started the morning I read Rachel’s latest blogpost, “Quincing My Words.” Her description of this odd but intriguing fruit drew me right in: Illusive. Ancient. Properly Sensual.

Picture, if you will, a bulbous cross between an apple and a pear, with a heady fragrance both floral and citric.

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My mind whirled, imagining its heft and scent, a fruit both exotic and seductive. (Perhaps these were the love apples of Venus?) I could envision bowls of quinces perfuming kitchens of antiquity, and prized trees laden with great yellow-green knobs planted outside Persian homes.

Rachel made the quince sound paradisaical, something from a dream. I doubted that I’d ever have the chance to taste this fruit, but enjoyed the read, and went about my day. My cousin Cathy was soon arriving to visit, and speak at the Southern Festival of Books.

That night we went to Anatolia’s, our favorite Turkish restaurant, and Cathy inquired about dessert.

“We have a special tonight,” our waiter said. “Baked quince. It is stuffed with walnuts and pistachios and we top it with cream. It is beautiful dessert, only here for a few weeks.”

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Ahhhhhhhhh. Yes!

He presented the confection, half an oblong fruit baked firm but spoon-supple, its center filled with a mixture of finely chopped nuts, cinnamon, and sugar. The pastry chef had garnished it with sweetened whipped cream and a scatter of pomegranate seeds.

The quince was like nothing else I’d ever eaten. Its texture much firmer than apples or pears–but smooth, not grainy–and its sweet-tart taste embodying a bit of both, but with layers of lemon and rose.

The whipped cream indeed gilded the lily, and the pomegranate seeds were little tangy firecracker bursts in each bite. Sublime!

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And so was born our mission to seek them out, and recreate the dish.

The next day, Cathy and I began our quince quest. First stop: Whole Foods, as recommended by the waiter at Anatolia’s. No luck. We drove across town to a large global market, again to no avail. And then Cathy made this observation, “This is a Middle Eastern dessert. We need to shop at a Middle Eastern market. Do you have one?”

Of course! We motored from the west side of town to the southside, out Nolensville Road, Nashville’s diverse global corridor for shopping and dining. A sign with distinctive script advertising fruits, vegetables, and Halal meats held promise but its owner had sad news; he had sold out a couple of days ago. “I have a friend. He may have some at his store.” He made the call, turned to us and said, “Only two pieces.”

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Sold. Two would be all we needed.

Blocks away, there they were, awaiting us, in a small market that held other delicacies worth exploring.

You’ll notice a light downy fuzz covering the quince that you’ll need to rinse off. And, until cooked, they remain devilishly hard. The yellower the quince, the riper. But, the oven-poach will transform even a green quince into a wondrous thing.

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At the Turkish restaurant, they may have baked the quince in some rosewater–a splendid idea. We chose pear nectar and lemon, which imparted lovely notes to the poach, and its resulting caramel-like sauce.

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When Cathy visits, she likes to bring recipes for me to try. The wedge you’ve seen plated with our quince is Oat Pudding, a simple rustic dessert from the Friuli region of Italy that Cathy had been making recently. We knew that this pudding would be an ideal accompaniment to the fruit.

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OVEN-POACHED QUINCES, STUFFED WITH WALNUTS AND PISTACHIOS
2 Quinces, cut in half, and cored
1/4 c. Pistachios, finely chopped
1/4 c. Walnuts, finely chopped
3 T. Sugar
1/2 t. Cinnamon
2 T. Butter
1 1/2 cups Pear Nectar (or juice)
1 1/2 cups Water
1 Lemon, cut into strips

Optional: Pomegranate seeds (taken from a quarter section)
lightly sweetened Whipped Cream

You’ll need a good sharp knife for this. The quinces are hard-hard, but will remarkably soften and yield their marvelous flavor in a long oven-poach.

Mix water and pear nectar in a deep casserole dish. Add lemon strips.
Mix nuts, sugar, and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Press nut mixture into the center core of each quince half. Dot with butter.

Place each half, facing up, into the pear-water bath. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake in a pre-heated 325 degree oven. Bake for an hour and uncover. Baste the quinces. Bake uncovered for another 20-30 minutes.

Serve warm, and drizzle the caramelized juices over the quince.
2 Quince=4 large half-size servings, or 8 nice wedges to eat with Oat Pudding.

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OAT PUDDING
adapted from Recipes from an Italian Farmhouse by Valentina Harris
1 1/4 c. Oatmeal
2 1/2 c. Milk
4 Egg Yolks
7 T. Sugar
2 T. Pear Nectar

Spread oatmeal on a baking sheet and toast in a 225 degree oven for 15-20 minutes.

Bring milk to a boil. Sprinkle in oatmeal, lower the heat, and stir constantly for about 10 minutes. Add more milk if the mixture seems too stiff. Remove from heat.
For a smooth pudding: puree oatmeal in a blender. For heartier texture, leave the mixture as is.

Beat egg yolks until fluffy and light lemon colored. Add sugar and beat for at least 5 minutes longer. Fold into oatmeal mixture and cook on low heat for 7 minutes, stirring until thickened and custardy.

Coat the bottom of a small mixing bowl with pear nectar. Pour in oat pudding mixture. Chill for at least 4 hours. Turn out and serve.

Serves 6-8

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Posted in Desserts, Fruit, Gluten Free, Recipes

34 Responses to “Quince Quest”
  1. Juliana Says:

    I never had quince…sounds intriguing…and like the idea of stuffing them with nuts, it sure looks great paired with oat pudding…another thing that I have not had yet.
    Hope you are having a great week Nancy :-)

  2. Three-Cookies Says:

    Same here, I have never seen nor tried quince. Very curious. I have tried nashi pear which seems to be a cross between apple and pear but its completely different from quince

  3. Mary Says:

    This is beautiful! I’m impressed with your determination to find and make this dish. I bet it was delicious.

  4. Caroline Says:

    Now that’s just heaven on a plate. I’ve actually never tried quinces either, but they look beyond delicious after being poached. Great dessert!

  5. Nic@diningwithastud Says:

    Wow! It looks delicious :) I’ve never cooked with quince before. I dont think Iv even seen them at the markets so wouldnt even know what it looked like lol. Now I do :D

  6. Kath Says:

    Oh my! my mouth is watering at the sight of these. My mum has a quince tree which is always loaded but we have only ever made quince jelly. I must, must, must poach them next year. I planted my own tree this year so I hope to have my own bounty in a few years time. The tree has such beautiful blossom too.

  7. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Hi Kath—I think that you’d love them oven-poached.
    We saved some of the seeds, in hopes of manifesting a quince tree filled with those amazing blossoms and fruit–I’ve never seen one where I live–and I think it would thrive. What a revelation they are!

  8. Michele Napoli Says:

    Although I’ve never eaten quinces, pairing them with pistachios, walnuts, cinnamon, butter,and sugar sounds just divine.

  9. Kim Says:

    My Nanny (paternal grandmother) made and canned quince jelly. I lost my Nanny when I was a young teenager and as we lived out of the country for much of my childhood, my memories of her are pretty much limited to home made lemonade and her wonderful, incredible, delicious quince jelly. Thanks for the fond memories. I have little hope of finding quince in this neighborhood, but now I’m going to try. Your recipe looks delicious.

  10. Kitchen Belleicious Says:

    Now you have me intrigued and wanting to jump in the car right now and go get me some quince. Seriously, if I love apples and i love pears what is not to love about this fruit. I have never eaten it before either let alone heard of it. Thanks for sharing and I love that you poached them. Brings out more of their flavor. YUM!

  11. Nancy Says:

    A family friend has made quince jelly for years. It’s delicious and is made from a smaller quince which grows well here in Tennessee. The jelly is a beautiful jewel like rose color

  12. Teresa/foodonfifth.com Says:

    Nance, My “Granny” also made quince jelly. It is now a little known fruit in the South, but many years ago country folk such as my grandmother had quince trees in their yards. I have not seen one in years so what fun to see your recipe and story about your “quince quest”. It reminded me of standing in a steamy kitchen in the fall with my Granny watching as she turned the hard quince into clear, sweet, slightly yellow tinted jelly to be eaten on cold winter days. Thanks for the memories. Lovely photos & story.

  13. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Kim and Teresa–I thought that quince might be a “fallen-from-favor” fruit that was once grown and cooked by another generation. I’m happy that it triggered fond memories.

    Nancy G—nice to hear from you!! I would love to sample that jewel-like quince jelly.

  14. Fluffy Says:

    the nut stuffing was my favorite, with juicy quince running down my chin

  15. rhonda Says:

    i love your “fallen from favor” reference as wikipedia says of the quince:
    Although the book of Genesis does not name the specific type of the fruit that Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the garden of Eden, some ancient texts suggest that Eve’s fruit of temptation might have been a quince.
    now,, i MUST try it! ;-)

  16. Betsy Cossuth Says:

    In South Florida the Cuban culture has a Quince Paste called Membrillo. It is served with wedges of manchego (goats) cheese or cream cheese if not available.

    It is easily purchased in Cuban bakeries or grocery stores, but you can Google for recipe to make it at home.

    Love your blog,

    Candy

  17. Rach Says:

    I am so happy to be part of this post and in awe of the results of your quince quest – just blooming brilliant and something i will be making just as soon as I get my cooking back on some kind of track. I ate something very like this at the restaurant moro (you would love it) years ago and this post has brought it back.
    You are a wonderful and big spirited writer nancy. love to you x

  18. FOODESSA Says:

    The connection…the journey…and the excitement of it all has me also putting quince on my radar.
    Nancy, I truly was enchanted by your post…I almost felt I was on that mission right along Cathy and yourself ;o)) The oatmeal Italian based recipe was also intriguing…never heard of it, hmmm…shall try this treat one day for sure.

    Next…a trip to my middle eastern store. Here’s crossing my fingers that Ms. Quince will be displayed in all her stubborn glory ;o)

    Ciao for now,
    Claudia

  19. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Candy–I’ve never heard of Membrillo. Wow.Sounds fantastic. thanks for sharing this remarkable tip!

    Rach-thanks again for the inspiration—it triggered the whole experience.

    Claudia-“stubborn glory” –perfect. I hope you are successful in your quince quest.

  20. Faith Says:

    Love this post, Nancy! I haven’t had quince yet this season and now I am craving it for sure! Your description is nothing short of magical…and that recipe looks divine!

  21. Beth Says:

    This looks great. I’ve never baked with quince before, but you make a compelling case! I’ll have to look for some in the market.

  22. Angie@Angiesrecipes Says:

    Love those stuffed quince. They look glorious!

  23. Cathy Says:

    Nancy, I so enjoyed recalling our quince adventure while reading your account. My own quest in Maryland has proven less successful. This morning the produce guy at my favorite international market told me he had quinces two weeks ago but has none now. So this afternoon I went to the Riverdale farmers market–where quinces were spotted a week ago–but the vendor forgot to bring them today! I will keep trying, but I may end up serving the oat pudding plain, garnished with the pomegranate and pistachios that I optimistically bought. The philosophy for quinces may be: if you see them, buy them and cook them!

  24. Ashley Says:

    I’ve actually stumbled upon quince a few times and really enjoyed eating them plain; I can only imagine how delicious they become after being baked up with some sugar and spice.

  25. kankana Says:

    I am seeing so many Quince recipes in the blogging world. I am yet to get onto those .. this looks lovely.

  26. Tammy Says:

    I have also never had a quince but if I ever do, this looks lovely.

  27. Maria Says:

    Hi Nancy! Hope you’re well. It’s always so great to make discoveries on your site! This time I made two! 1) Quince… so unique and sense-awakening… and 2) From Candy’s comment (#16) that it is also found in the Cuban culture (which includes me). I don’t recall “Membrillo”, but it sounds so familiar to me that now I, too, will go on a quest for quince. The dessert looks amazing. My Turkish colleague, Yasemin, may know in which direction to point me. Cultures are very interesting.

  28. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Hi Maria–glad that you found 2 new things—from Turkey to Cuba!

  29. Maria Says:

    I also found quince — my quest started and ended right at the farmers market a block away from my workplace! Yum — can’t wait.

  30. Maria Says:

    Delish indeed! It’s so cozy when served warm and refreshing when served chilled (especially during these sweltering Indian Summer days). Very fragrant and very unique — reminiscent of apples and pears. Nutty additions add a delightful texture to the smooth, sweet, subtley cinnamon-y mix.

  31. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Hi Maria—thanks for letting me know about the results of your “quince quest.” I am so glad you enjoyed it.

  32. Maria Says:

    I hope there’s some left when I get home this evening — should have bought more. Oh well, there’s always next Wednesay at the farmers market. Thanks for sharing your incredible recipes!

  33. Maria Says:

    Guess what I’m bringing to our family Thanksgiving celebration? It’s all thanks to you, Nancy. Have a wonderful, safe Holiday! I’m going to explore your site now for any additional inspirations I may have missed.

  34. goodfoodmatters Says:

    That’s so great, Maria. All the best to you and yours.



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