They Dined on Quince ..

quince by 4028mdk09

In Edward Lear’s playful love poem, The Owl and the Pussycat, the title characters “went to sea in a beautiful pea green boat”. On their wedding night, “they dined on mince and slices of quince” and, yes, ate them with a runcible spoon.

While I don’t know what Lear’s mince was (if anything), the ancient-appearing, squat-pear-shaped, crunchy and little-used quince may be one of the oldest fruits in existence. Early traders traveled from the Tigris Valley to Isfahan, in what is now Iran, for quinces, honey, saffron, apples and salt. Those foods were combined with grapes, pomegranates, cinnamon, rhubarb and figs back at the trading crossroads of Bagdad.

Of these foods, quinces are thought to be one of the most ancient — it’s possible that Eve was tempted not by an apple but by a quince. (And wouldn’t this knowledge have raised the quince’s profile?)

Quince by David W

The evocative fruit made its way to the Mediterranean and to New World, appearing in the garden at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. I’ve been only somewhat aware of quince, having had quince sorbet and quince jam (which was wonderful, something like a sweet-tart apple-pear) , but not much else. I’d noticed the beautiful, sensuous fruit stitched into Medieval tapestries in museums.

So when the folks at Food News Journal found themselves with a bounty of fresh quinces on their hands, and asked their readers for a quince recipe, I had limited experience with the fruit, but was as curious as they about what to do with it. (I was also charmed by the idea of calling for recipes rather than wasting fruit.)

Quinces Ag Research

I found quince compotes and, of course, jam, which I’d like to try, but my curiosity was especially piqued by this Quince Tarte Tatin from Epicurious, precisely because I like apple desserts so much and substituting the somewhat exotic quinces for the recipe’s traditional apples seemed interesting.

My recipe was chosen, and Shelly Peppel of Food News Journal reports that the resulting tart smelled delicious. “It had a bubbling brown crust, and the caramel was bubbling around the edges in a buttery broth that sent me straight to heaven,” she wrote.

So now I’ll have to try it. Who knows? If enough of us start cooking with quinces, we can re-popularize this historical, romantic fruit.


Photos: Wikimedia 4028mdk09/Public Domain, David W./Public Domain, Ag Research/Public Domain, Brian Leatart/Bon App├ętit

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38 responses to “They Dined on Quince ..

  1. Congratulations on having your recipe chosen.

    I LOVE to read about the history of different foods so I really appreciated this article. You’re a great writer.

    Now I’m just wondering how you tell a quince from a pear – they look so similar.

  2. A lovely article about the quince, thank you. The Owl and the Pussy Cat is one of my favourite poems (I also own a runcible spoon). I recently found a quince tree at the side of the road and collected a large bag full of the fruit of the tree. Sadly, probably because of it being near the road, all the fruit was rotten inside (it looked fine from the outside) and I couldn’t do anything about it. Anyway, I’m now going to plant my own tree in the garden!

  3. I live in th countryside of South Korea. Yesterday my husband picked about 15 quinces from our tree in the front yard. We usually just leave them around the house for scent. That’s what most Koreans do with quince. Thanks for the tips :)

  4. Thank you so much, Alison! I think quinces are a little more squat-shaped than pears and, according to Shelly at Food News, they can appear a bit fuzzy on the outside.

    Thank you, too, Fiona. I love that you own a runcible spoon! We all should own them and also talk like Edward Lear (his Nonsense Book was one of my childhood favorites.) It would remind us to have daily whimsy. It’s great that you’re going to plant a quince tree. I hope you report back about its progress.

    Thank you for writing, too, Josette. I did read about using bowls of quinces to scent homes. It’s a great tradition! Is the smell sweet? Are quince trees plentiful where you are?

  5. My family is Romanian, and they all LOOOOVE quinces. Raw, baked, preserved, in food and in desserts, for breakfast lunch and dinner. As a kid growing up in California I thought they were weird apple-pear mutants and stayed away. (As for the difference between quinces and pears — pears are softer and sweeter, and quinces have a very dense and smooth texture.)

    Today I like them again, and your report that these are storied, celebrated fruits will help me enjoy them with a fresh eye!

  6. Hi Roxana! This is great information. Thank you. I didn’t know that quinces taste good raw. (I can see I’m going to be trying all things quince now.) I assumed that cooking, baking and preserving softened and sweetened them up.

    I agree that knowing the history of a food, especially an ancient one, can add to its delight.

  7. “…and slices of quince which they ate with a runcible spoon…”. One of my favourite poems. Love the post. Love pears – dry and fresh. Have a great day.

  8. The article is great, living in Israel quince is more well known. But I didnt know that it could be eaten raw. Also I find that they are only sour when hard and impossible to cut and peel. any tips?

  9. yes, i’ve heard about the story with apple and Eve. you know, i even think that it was really so – she used not an apple but other fruit. this was the mistake of translators or rewriters.

  10. That is very interesting, never heard of Quince before ;)

  11. I just love quinces and have been eating them since I was very small. It maybe is an acquired taste, but lovely and refreshing. My favorite quince product is quince jelly (cooked from quinces like jam would be) … has a lovely read color and a wonderful taste!

  12. Bravo for having your recipe chosen! It does look delicious…. North Coast Muse @

  13. Food for thought… I’ve never tried quinces, but the tart recipe sounds intriguing!

  14. They sure LOOK good! :)

  15. Yes quinces smell very sweet. Since I moved to Korea 5 years ago, I’ve bought a bunch of quince just to keep around the house. But now that I have a tree in the front yard, I don’t have to buy anymore. I wouldn’t say that there is an abundance of quince, but you can always get some when you go to the farmers market in the fall. It’s also common to see quince trees in countryside front yards, along with the traditionall persimmon tree for good luck.

  16. Thank you all for your wonderful comments and ideas! I’m vastly enjoying this global conversation about quinces!

    Greetings, Mari, Flower Boy, Pretty Project, and Sunny. I’m glad to hear you’re delighted and intrigued by the quince!

    Hi Jimmy — In reading about quinces, I came across the idea that the apple was likely a quince, but also could have been a fig or an apricot, both also ancient fruits.

    Hello, Dena. I love Middle Eastern food, and it’s no surprise that quinces are so abundant in Israel. Roxana reports eating them raw. (I’d also heard they were sour. I need to try one!)

    Roxana, or Food News Journal’s Shelly, or anyone else — any tips for Dena on cutting and peeling quinces? (This reminds me of mangoes. Totally different fruit, but another that I have difficulty peeling/cutting.)

  17. Hello, Sally and Dana! Thank you for visiting from Ohio’s North Coast, where you must be having a lovely fall. You both have beautiful blogs. Sally, I found the story of your son very moving and cheer for him to do well as he goes out into the world. Your food photography and recipes are also luscious.

    Dana, I love your blogs, too, especially your brand new one on old cameras. You must have quite a collection. My mom used to take our family pictures with a twin-lens Rolleiflex. I have so many memories of looking at the top of her head as we waited for her to shoot a picture. Thank you for reminding me of them.

    (While we’re on the subject of blogs, the Pretty Project is also a fascinating first-hand look at the effects of appearance. Thank you for telling us about it.)

    I’m glad the subject of quinces intrigued you and got you all here. I hope you’ll continue to visit.

  18. Hello, Sayuri. I’m glad you enjoy quince jelly. It sounds delicious and pretty. (Jelly should be pretty, I think.) It seems the fruit’s slight tartness and texture is a natural for jellies and jams, and I am looking forward to making some.

    Did I share that the folks at Food News Journal had some quinces left over after making the tart and are bringing them to my house? Quince jelly, here we come!

    And, Josette, thank you so much for reporting back from South Korea. You paint a vivid picture of the quince trees in the countryside yards. I love that they smell sweet — No wonder people have them in bowls in their homes. I was thinking about persimmons, too. Also pomegranates, and other ancient fruits. It’s great to hear that persimmon trees are planted for good luck. It makes sense (like the orange in other cultures) — fruit are life-bearing, food-providing and, in agrarian cultures, tied to the economy. I’m enjoying your blogs as well. I hope you’ll be a regular visitor to Slow Family.

  19. Suz: Thanks for the quince info. The Spanish have a firm quince product, almost the texture of a firm cheese. The eat it after dinner, like a cheese. We had a quince tree at our family ranch. I don’t think it is there anymore. Mom used the fruit to scent the house.

  20. Wow, thanks for this. It’s interesting to read more about the quince. It is most commonly used in Turkey as a jam or in “ayva tatlisi”, which is a kind of weird pink colored, very sweet concoction. Not my thing at all!

  21. Hi Janis! It’s great to see you here. That’s interesting about the Spanish quince, which must have migrated over from the middle east. There is quince in so many cuisines, yet it’s relatively little-known here. I also love that your mom scented the house with quince. You must have nice memories of the smell. Your family ranch sounds like a special spot! I always like to hear about it and about the cooking and gardening that growing up there seems to have inspired.

    Greetings, TinyMorsel! You have a beautiful blog and baby. Your food photos are lovely and, being a lover of middle eastern food, I want to try everything. Do you live in Turkey?

  22. If you’re my boyfriend, i.e. hardcore quince eater, you just bite into it. That’s what those incisors are for, raaaa.

    A more palatable alternative, I think, is to slice it like an apple. I have no special tips for peeling. It’s never really crossed my mind. I guess it’s trickier than an apple and tougher than a pear, but a good knife does the trick? Curious if anyone else has any strategies.

  23. that looks sooo good!!! keep it up :)

  24. Hi Suz,

    To peel a quince, use a potato peeler and just go at it the same way. Mine were really furry, so I scrubbed off the fur first before peeling.

    I also needed to wait a week or so for them to ripen. They were really hard when I first got them, and no way to even cut into them easily. After they softened just a bit they were easier to cut.

    Have fun!

    • Hi Tasha! Nice to see you here. And thank you.

      Hello again Roxana and greetings Shelly! Thank you both so much for coming over with wonderful quince peeling tips! (For everyone but Roxana’s spirited boyfriend!) This is great, and ultra-timely because Shelly, Queen of Quince and editor of Food News Journal just dropped some quinces *and* pastry dough by, so I, too, can make the tart. (Will it look as good as the Bon Appetit one? We’ll see. I’m sure it will taste divine.) The quinces are quite fuzzy and smell wonderfully fragrant. Thanks again. It’s not everyday you have virtual visitors from around and quince on your doorstep.

  25. How to tell a quince from a pear, asks the first commenter. I’m pretty sure that quinces look more pretentious.

  26. I’ve always been too scared to try a quince – now I think I’ll buck up and go get one!
    Thanks for the informative article.

  27. Quince are a wonderful fruit, we are about to plant a dwarf quince, as the fruit is so versatile. Quince chutney is a personal favourite.
    As for mince, it is what the English and us antipodeans call hamburger.
    You mentioned difficulty peeling mango. The tip is: Don’t.
    Slice the cheeks off, so along the flat edge of the stone, the score deep cross hatches all the way to the skin, then turn it inside out. Simple.
    Then the rest can be cut off the stone.

  28. Welcome, Mordzook. If you saw the quinces that were brought here by Shelly of Food News Journal, you’d agree that they look anything but pretentious. They are downright furry, somewhat lumpy, and at once grand and homely. (Grand, I think, because they’ve been around so long. Like some dowagers, the quinces have earned their formidable quality.) The pear, by contrast, is instantly lovelier, a photogenic distant cousin.

    If the quince is pretentious, what of the persimmon? The loquat? The lychee, the kiwi, the fig?

  29. Greetings, kreme42. Thank you. I love your blog and want to follow all your northern farming adventures. I saw that we both took note of the harvest moon, and you were out working under it. Bravo!

    And kiwiswiss, hello! I truly appreciate the wonderful information you bring. I should have thought of mincemeat, of course, which mince must be short for. I got carried away, instead, with the unique, infectious nonsense of Lear.

    Thank you, too, for the mango-slicing tip. Your description makes perfect sense. I’m going to try it next time. Now, any tips on choosing a mango (or a papaya, for that matter) in the store? I seem to come home with stringy ones.

  30. wow, that recipe looks like delicious!!

  31. How come when I am logged in, it doesn’t show a backlink? We are
    Choosing mangoes is a black art. If the variety is listed, Bowen is the best. These tend to be large, well shaped and have a very red blush to them. Stringiness is all down to the variety. Tap the Papaya, if it sounds hollow, it will be ready to eat. Sniff it, and see if it smells fruity, same as you would a pineapple. I hope you didn’t mean you have had stringy papaya, as I have never encountered one of those… =)

    • Hello again Kiwiswiss. I’m glad you posted your blog address. (I don’t know why your backlink didn’t show.) You have a lovely food blog. Thank you so much for all the tips on choosing mangos and papayas. I’m not sure if I’ve had stringy papayas as well as mangos, but I definitely need help with both!

      Nice to see you, too, iwed and poetryman. Thanks for the kind comment and for stopping by.

  32. definitely made me curious. well done.

  33. Hiya Suz – I’m surprised no one has mentioned how incredibly wonderful a little quince spread is on manchego cheese… mmmmmmm good!!! Thanks for this great blog on a sweet little fruit…

  34. Hi Ellen! It’s great to see you here. Quince spread on manchego cheese sounds perfect! Manchego is the firm Spanish cheese, yes? Of course the fruit-and-cheese combination is one of the best in the world. I use Dalmatia orange-fig spread (which I love) with Most Things Cheese. I must expand to and embrace the Quince! Thank you for mentioning it.

  35. Pingback: Learning To Eat » Archivio » Learning to Eat Quinces

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