I love the letter Q. It's terribly old fashioned. From another time, this fanciful letter. You might think it queer, but I find it quixotic. Sure, quip about it, I'll take my Q and stand on the quay in the queue and ponder my quandary. You can quote me, or remain querulous.
If I had been born about 4o years earlier there is no doubt I would have ended up a typographer.
The letter Q is held high by the mysterious quince. Who is she? Where did she come from? Who created her? Her scent is magnetic, alluring. A shape, like nothing else. Compared to the apple and pear, quince posses all the traits of both but bring something else to the table. Venetian masks, a mistress's assured wit, hands for playing cards and breaking locks.
Few people can describe quince. One must taste it; simmer it on the stove for hours, turn hard and inedible to soft and nibby, watch pale yellow-white turn to deep pink. Quince as Orlando.
The quince, she doesn't lay down too easily. One needs a good peeler, a heavy dose of patience, a very sharp knife, a patch of cheesecloth and a few hours at home. Quince is packed with pectin, and will produce a satisfying amount of end product if you have the time to take to get to know her.
Many people, perhaps afraid of her pure bewitching perfume, pollute a quince pot with cinnamon, lemon peel and/or orange peel. I prefer her deep magenta taste and keep everything but perhaps a scant sliver of vanilla bean from co-mingling. If you are finding yourself in your kitchen with quince for the first time I beg of you: Keep It Simple. How will you make deep eye contact with this lovely if you bring overpowering scents on your first date with her?
What I do is simple. I wash and dry cotton downy fuzz from skin, top and bottom with knife, peel as I would a pear or apple and core. I keep all these shavings and innards and wrap them in a cheesecloth pouch. Depending on what I will eventually use the finished quince for, I slice or only quarter the quince. I drop these pieces in what I consider more than enough water-- like if I were boiling potatoes, plus a bit more. I acidulate the water with fresh lemon juice. I submerge the cheesecloth pouch in, keeping it loose like a tea bag so liquid can wash through it easily. Then I pour a generous amount of sugar in and turn the heat on low-medium. If I have a lot of fruit pieces in the water, I might make a little round parchment "hat" so that the quince jutting out above the water line do not turn too brown. (Cut parchment in a large circle and flatten to surface of liquid.)
Need a recipe? I don't really use one, but how about these proportions...
For every 1 large quince, 3 Cups water and 1 Cup sugar, 1/2 lemon squozed.
But please, be my guest and make necessary guesses, adjustments, tosses, flings, dashes, or quirk in quantity.
I like to cook the mixture slow and low until I see the fruit turn pink and get tender. The proportion of water:sugar will create more or less quince jelly at the end. If you are wanting a quince spread, pull out the food mill and/or the food processor. If you didn't have time to peel and core every last piece you can cook the quince in more liquid than you need and food-mill the fruit to hold back the hard bits.
The quince seeds are plentiful but held together like caviar. The ancient roots of this "original fruit" are boldly visible when prepping it. Take note that the hard shell which envelops the pips is really quite hard, like a fish scale. No matter how much you cook the fruit, your mouth will not want to encounter this, so be thorough when removing it.
I find that whatever I make with quince, if I keep it in a tight lidded glass or hard plastic container in the fridge, it will keep for months!
Quince is wondrous paired with pork, foie gras, small poultry, toasted rye bread, cornmeal, pears, apples, Meyer lemons, tangerines & mandarins, raspberries, pomegranates, bitter greens, nuts, buttery pastry, and just about any cheese. Spain's Membrillo is quince paste. And, so I have been told by many a Mexican person I've worked alongside, there is a quince varietal that can and is eaten out-of-hand, but I have never been to Mexico so I cannot say this from first-hand experience.
I found these quince on a tree in my neighborhood. If you are getting yours from the market, pick ones as yellow as you can find them. Unless they are cold you should be able to smell their perfume strongly.
Take the time one lazy Autumn afternoon, and you will have quince's siren-esque scent and ineffable taste for days to come. Or place them in your lingerie or sock drawer, as the French and English once did.
Where I go, and have always gone for quince inspiration: Jane Grigson's Fruit Book.