At last the sun has broken through the cloud after days of drizzle. Autumn has spread its pallet of colors across the valley; the lawn beneath our basket willow is now covered in a carpet of golden leaves. Also golden and pleasing to the eye is the plentiful bounty of fruit on the quince trees scattered about the town.
Quinces are one of the reasons I love autumn. For the last few decades they have been treated as a kind of heirloom fruit, relegated to the back end of the culinary popularity stakes, but those in the know, myself included have been quietly celebrating in its delights.
The allure of the quince goes back to antiquity. Eve was reputed to have tempted Adam not with an apple, but with a big fat yellow quince! When stewed, the flesh of the quince turns a deep, erotic red, and this, combined with its rich sensual flavor certainly turned the Romans on. They held the fruit sacred to Venus, and Pliny the Elder reckoned quince warded off the evil eye. It doesn’t placate my evil eye as I watch the satin bowerbirds descend in flocks to ravage my tree. Their only saving grace is they are such beautiful birds, the female with intricate olive green flecks and the male a deep glossy blue-black.
The quince is a member of the rose family. One trait of this family is that it contains hydrogen cyanide (the same substance that give almonds their unique flavor). The Persians used the seeds of the quince medicinally, especially for the heart and digestive system.
The big question is how can a fruit taste so damn fine? Sweet, sour, complex, a slight grainy texture combined with a delicious smoothness, but I will leave the subject of “mouth-feel” to more racy bloggers than me.
I just picked a handful of these yesterday and simmered them all day on the top of the woodstove. As the rain danced on the corrugated iron roof, the kitchen was filled with the most wonderful aroma. Which reminds me, if you want to make a room smell nice, take a whole quince, bury a dozen cloves into it, and leave it in a bowl.
Last night after eating a prodigious quantity of sourdough pizza from my wood-oven with our friends Jaquie and Russell, I served quinces with a duck egg Crème Anglaise. It was a great way to finish the evening. Get the recipe for Autumnal Stewed Quinces here.
Happy Cooks are Happy Campers!