Monday, December 5, 2011
Eating the Unusual: Quince
A quince halved to show the dark encapsulated seeds, looking very much like the seeds of an apple growing melon like at its center.
A plate of quinces, each about the diameter of a fifty cent piece.
I'm not a picky eater. I've gotten a lot more reserved as to what I will try, but I've tried a lot of different food. Left to my own devices, AKA-eating alone, I often tell my son I have the palette of a 4-year-old. I could live on mac 'n cheese, Cheese-whiz, hot dogs, and pizza. That means not very healthy.
I do, though, try to grow what I eat, cook from scratch, eat very little red meat, refrain from sugary soda, and don't add sugar just because. I do count my calories, not that it seems to make a lot of difference; I come up with around 1450 to 1700 on any given day, even enlisting my son in the onerous taste.
I do love salt, drink way to much coffee (or so my son tells me), and probably fry rather than bake a tad too often.
And I have traveled around the world a fair amount and eaten local foods as well. I have consumed snails, Russian caviar, horse, squid, salsify, rutabagas, jicamas, dandelions, puff balls, duck, pheasant, squirrel, rabbit, grape leaves, sushi, some very questionably stinky cheeses, and retsina.
So all this is a preface to some food experimentation I have done lately. For some of you, those of you with more metropolitan backgrounds and food supply chains that span the globe easily and regularly, you are going to be scratching your head, "duh?" These might be things you eat everyday. Others of you, like me here in the upper Midwest, will cut me some slack. You know where I am coming from.
People here are not the most adventurous of eaters.
So let the eating begin with quince.
About 20 years ago I planted the flowering quince 'Texas Scarlet' in my yard at my Elgin, IL (zone 6)house. In about three years, it grew into a beautifully-trimmed ovoid shape loaded with its namesake scarlet blooms.
Its thick waxy dark green leaves made it a standout specimen shrub the remaining part of the year, remarked on by all fellow gardeners who saw it. I wish I had a picture of it in its prime. I do not, only the glorious memory.
I have attempted to transplant a cutting of what here is a marginal plant without success. It's gnarly hacked-back growth has precluded digging a rooted section off the existing shrub still living happily in my Ex's yard.
When my Ex told me it was loaded with fruit this year, and did I want some, I was amazed. In it's first 15 or so years I think it bore maybe 3 pieces of fruit, total. Of course, I said, "Sure."
In mid-November, he brought me about three or four pounds of the fruit, maybe 30-40 of the hard, yellowish flattened spheres.
I smelled them. Interestingly, it was a very pleasant almost sweet perfumed smell, not overly sweet.
Quinces are related to apples and pear. They can even be pollinated by a pear, which I assume these might have been. There are four pear trees that bloom about every other year in a yard abutting my Ex's. I don't know of another quince, however, within a quarter mile. This rare year their flowering seasons must have overlapped.
I cut it in half and sliced off a thin slice. The peel was not as edible as a pear or apple, more like a rind than a peel. The fruit smelled perfume-y, but has a tart astringent taste, like eating a very sour SweetTart for the first time. What I noticed, that unlike an apple, the cut fruit left on my counter did not brown.
So now what? With this much fruit, looking through my preserving books, I saw a couple different recipes for jelly and marmalade. From reading, I take that it jelly is a typical use for quince. Sometimes eating is done, but only at that point the fruit is coming into what we would consider nearly an overripe state.
I decided on a recipe for a marmalade type jelly. As I sliced and cored the quince, I noticed the quince affecting the texture of my hands, having sort of a calming effect. It was the sort of effect you'd expect from washing your hands in a tincture of willow bark perhaps with its salicylic acid component. Also, it seemed my joints moved more fluidly (I have slight aches and pains, injuries, overuse, and probably a touch of something a bit more arthritic.) This effect makes me wonder what all the hand cream manufacturing companies might be missing!
Cooking the quince they took on a delightful warm yellow. Unfortunately, the finished product did not retain this coloration. I'm not sure the change in color is typical or the result in my overcooking the jelly mixture as I did have difficulties getting it to the gelling point within the time limits the recipes were stating.
The finished product was a thick dark amber, tasting tart, although not harshly so. The beginning of the taste had a sensation of a perfume-y flavor, but this did not linger nor was there a perfumey after-taste.
So, I have four half-pints of lemon-quince marmalade in my larder this year. Maybe the taste for quince will grow on me and I will again attempt to introduce one to my yard. Or maybe, I'll give developing a soothing hand cream another hard look instead.