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?)
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.)
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 Appétit
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