Quince trees used to abound all over the American landscape, but now they’ve become a somewhat exotic fruit, ready to be rediscovered, as they definitely were this year. Legend has it that these deeply lobed yellow fall fruits were Eve’s original temptation in the Garden of Eden. That might be so, based on their incredible fragrance. But we don’t think Adam took a bite and was seduced forever: A raw quince would’ve sent civilization in quite a different direction, with its mouth-puckering fierceness.
Quinces need cooking to bring out their seductive flavor, which is somewhere between pear and apple, with another sharp but indefinable taste that seems to come from their wild heritage. But once you have the taste, you’re hooked – every fall you’ll be looking for our quinces, most reliably found at the farmers’ market or an Asian market. A bowl of quinces brings an exotic aroma to the whole house; a lone quince on the shelf will perfume your closet.
The only problem is how to crack these hardest of fruits. We suggest a Chinese cleaver – or don’t cut them at all until they’re cooked; they’ll have more flavor that way.
This heavenly dish of poached quinces from four-star Philadelphia chef Aliza Green accents their natural tartness and fragrance with lemon and spices, including a whole vanilla bean. You’ll have leftover poaching liquid; reduce it into a delectable syrup, or even further and you’ll have a wonderful quince jelly to serve on crackers with cheese or for breakfast toast.”
- 2 cups water, or more if needed
- 1 cup dry white wine
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup honey
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
- Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 6 large fragrant quinces, such as Smyrnas
In a large nonreactive pot, combine everything but the quinces. Stir and bring to a boil. Peel the skin off the quinces. Slice them on half (preferably with a Chinese cleaver), then in quarters. Cut out the seeds, then cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges.
Place the quinces in the syrup and return to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and poach gently until the quinces are tender when pierced with a skewer, 15 minutes to nearly 1 hour. You may need to add more water. The quinces will be rosy when they’re done. Let cool in the syrup and serve alone or with a cheese course.