Are you a quince resister? We shall overcome.
Here are a few points in their favor:
1. One of the greatest poems ever written, “The Owl & The Pussycat,” by Edward Lear, features a quince:
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.
Need more? Really? I thought the poem would do it. Okay:
According to Plutarch, who ought to know, ancient Greek brides would sweeten their breath by nibbling on quinces before entering the bridal chamber, “in order that the first greeting may not be disagreeable nor unpleasant.” Plutarch may have overlooked some of the contributing factors to disagreeable encounters, but he was right on the money about the quince. Awesome dental refresher.
How about its other ancient pedigrees? The legendary golden apple of Hesperides that Paris gave to Aphrodite (remember that one?) was really a quince. You know the apples in the Song of Solomon (best bible section EVER–come on! totally! “Strengthen me with raisins”!)? Well, you guessed it. They were probably quinces. Quinces were originally cultivated in Persia, and if there is a more poetic and enchanting ancient culture to think about (and connect your meal to) than that one, I am all ears to hear about it.
A quick trot through historical quince lore also turns up the belief that pregnant women who eat generous quantities of quinces will give birth to industrious and highly intelligent children. Probably not much of a stretch to extrapolate that eating quinces will make anyone brighter and more capable. Worth a try, anyway. Painless, to be sure.
If lack of historical grounding was not what was holding you back, but instead you have resisted eating them because you had a bad quince-chopping experience, or because you can’t think of a single thing you’d like to do with them, I am about to put all your cares and woes behind you with a little nose-to-tail quince primer.
First and foremost, never approach a raw quince with chopping in mind. Before you and your knife get involved with the blessed items, roast them. The benefits are unlimited. Not only do you get a compliant fruit to attack with your knife, you also get (a) a house perfumed like ancient Persia, and (b) roasted quinces, which are my son’s hands-down favorite thing to find in his lunch box.
Second, make this chutney. Make it in place of cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving. Make it and put it on some meat or vegetable that you have grilled or roasted. Make it and use it for chutney’s highest and best use: the cheese and chutney sandwich.
Actually, in the case of this chutney, I think the highest and best use may be eating it out of the jar with a spoon, but a piece of toasted whole grain bread, some sharp cheddar and a glob of it on top will do you no harm.
Third, with the trimmings and tailings of the quinces, make some quince elixir (this sounds complicated and Persian, but really just means: boil stuff and then strain it). Tuck the jar in the back of your fridge. When the next sore throat comes around, and you know it will, warm this up with a little hot water. Thanks to all their pectin, quince seeds have a wildly demulcent quality that was used, way back when, to make lotion, and with good reason. The sore throat you are tending (which may not be your own) will thank you.
My canning coven makes this chutney in giant batches and then we can it, processing the jars for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath, but you can make a small batch and refrigerate it (it’s very acidic, so it should last quite a while), or eat it right up. The instructions are long because I am chatty, not because they are complicated. Chopping and stirring is what we are talking about here.
quince chutney and all its collateral benefits
about 12 medium quinces
2 cups sugar
juice of 2 lemons
1 cup water or apple cider
1 T minced fresh ginger
1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
With a towel, rub the fuzz off of your little yellow pals. Place them whole in a baking dish and into a 350 oven for 20-30 minutes, or until they are light brown all over and just soft to the touch and your house smells like heaven. They may require turning halfway through if they are crowded in the pan. You may want to stop here and just eat them all. I understand.
You can either peel them while they are whole and cut the bulk of the flesh off the core, or quarter them like you would an apple and then peel and core the sections. Some will be very pithy in the center. Cut them up not very carefully (it’s a slippery business, but trust me, way better than trying to deal with them raw) into chunks of 1″ or less. Don’t fret over stray bits of peel, which will cook away.
Whichever method of butchering you use, save the cores and peels and pithy bits into a separate pot as you go, and when you are done coring and peeling (cut the cores open so the interior, seedy part is exposed, if you have not quartered them as you went), fill the pot with water and set it to boil, then simmer. Let it simmer a few hours, then strain off the now pink, thick (from the pectin) liquid and sweeten to taste with honey (preferably raw). You can add ginger root to this if you want–and I urge you to want that–just throw a few coin-slices of it in with the peels and cores. Use a very clean (rinse it with boiling water) jar to store this and it ought to last a while in the fridge. For an epic healing concoction, prepare Alana’s magnificent garlic lemonade and mix it with a shot of this elixir.
Meanwhile, throw the quince pieces, the lemon juice and 1.5 cups of the sugar into a heavy pot with the water or cider, and bring to a simmer, stirring. Watch carefully and stir attentively to prevent scorching the bottom. Add more liquid if you need to, to keep things moving. When the quinces have softened entirely, mash things a bit with a potato masher and continue cooking until you like the consistency (it will thicken considerably as it cools, thanks to the pectin). Now add the ground spices, stir, and then after a minute or two more of simmering, taste to see how you like it. Add more sugar or spices as you see fit.