Quince is one fruit often overlooked by Americans, for some reason. In Europe, quince is a popular, versatile fruit that bakers and preservers alike find so many different applications for when it comes into season during the fall and winter months.
Quince is classified as a pome fruit, alongside apples and pears. A fully ripe quince will have a vibrant golden exterior. Its raw flesh is astringent and somewhat sour, due to its high pectin content, but turns soft and sweet when cooked. While not so aesthetically pleasing, quince has an intoxicatingly fragrant aroma of citrus and vanilla.
Quince trees require cold temperatures to flower and bear fruit, which makes them a perfect crop for the cold nights at Mud Creek Ranch in Santa Paula, California. Marguerita Smith tells us that her father planted the quince trees simply because he loves the fruit. Thanks to growers like the Smiths, who frequently share their tips and recipes on how best to cook and bake with quince, it’s growing in popularity.
Mud Creek Ranch yields about 2000 pounds of quince each winter, including three different varietals. The early-forming pineapple quince (pictured above) can be found at the markets now, as the other two will make their appearance later in the season, due to Southern California’s protracted hot weather. But quince season is just getting going, and Marguerita says they’ll have them until Christmas.
Robert Wemischner, a professor of baking and pastry at LA Trade Tech College, agrees that quince is an underappreciated fruit. During a recent field trip to the Santa Monica Farmers Market, we found him teaching his students how to bring quince to life by cooking and pairing it with sweet flavors like vanilla, honey and cinnamon. Robert’s recipe for a warm quince tart topped with pomegranate juice and whipped cream can be found here.
Quince has been around for millennia, even serving a prominent, yet sometimes tragic role in ancient folklore. In Greek mythology, a quince gifted by Paris to Aphrodite had consequences that started the Trojan War. Many believe quince was likely the forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden that ultimately tempted Eve. But when I hold a quince in my hand, it looks so harmless, like a fuzzy, irregularly shaped apple.