Here's how to eat a quince while the fruit's in season
Fruit resembles knobbly, squat Bartlett pears, with a smooth, pale green skin that turns yellow as it ripens
Quince are an intriguing fruit.
In the same family as apples and pears, they resemble knobbly, squat Bartlett pears, with a smooth, pale green skin that turns yellow as the fruit ripens and a layer of grey fuzz on the surface of the skin that can be easily rubbed off with your fingers.
Quince emit a wonderfully floral aroma as they ripen, but generally can't be eaten out of hand — while some varieties can, if allowed to ripen and soften long enough, most are too hard and bitter and must be cooked first.
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As they cook, the heat transforms from a pale, yellowish white to a deep pinkish apricot colour as the fruit softens to a smooth, velvety texture. The flavour is much like its aroma: sweet and floral, almost like elderflower or a muscat grape.
There are plenty of ways to cook quince; they can be roasted or poached, or peeled, cored and sliced into pies, tarts, cakes and crisps — by themselves, or along with apples or other fruit.
But with a high quantity of pectin, they're commonly turned into preserves, jellies, jams and quince paste, which is also known as quince cheese — a firm jelly that can be cut into squares or sliced and served alongside cheeses.
One of the most popular snacks in Spain is membrillo (the Spanish name for quince paste) served with manchego, a firm, buttery sheep's milk cheese.
Since sugar acts as a preservative, quince paste will store well in the fridge for a couple months, so while quince are in season now, you can make a batch or two to tuck away for the holidays.
Feel free to spice your quince paste by simmering a cinnamon stick, a few cardamom pods or a star anise along with the fruit — I don't like to add too much, so it doesn't overwhelm the complex flavour of the quince itself.
Peel, core and dice as many quince as you like, put them in a pot with enough water to cover them by a couple inches, and bring to a simmer. Cook for about 30 minutes, or until the quince are very soft.
Drain off most of the water (I like to leave a bit in to make it easier to puree), and puree the fruit in a food processor until completely smooth.
Return the puree to the pot, add an equal amount of sugar (so if you have three cups of puree, you'll need three cups of sugar), bring to a simmer and cook for an hour or so, stirring often as it thickens, until it turns apricot-coloured and thickens to the point that it pulls away from the side of the pan.
Cool slightly and pour into small jars or ramekins (line them with plastic wrap first if you want to unmould them) and refrigerate until firm.
Alternatively, if the puree is thick enough, sprinkle a board generously with sugar, spread over the paste, spreading it smooth with a knife or offset spatula, and sprinkle the top generously with sugar too.
Once completely cooled, cut into small squares.
Poached quince cheesecake
Poached quince keeps well in the fridge, so you can use it to top ice cream or other cakes, or serve the soft slices over oatmeal or yogurt and granola in the morning, with some of its poaching liquid drizzled overtop.
2-3 quince, peeled, cored and sliced
1 cup sugar
3 cups water
A cinnamon stick, a few cardamom pods or star anise (optional)
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
½ cup butter, at room temperature
1 egg, divided
2 8-oz pkg cream cheese, at room temperature
½ cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
To poach the quince, bring the slices to a simmer in a medium saucepan with the sugar and water, and some cinnamon, cardamom or star anise if you like, and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the quince are soft. Set aside to cool and preheat the oven to 375˚F.
To make the crust, combine the flour, sugar, butter and the yolk of the egg (reserve the white) in a small bowl and blend with a fork, or your fingers until well blended.
Press into the bottom and about half an inch up the sides of a buttered or sprayed nine-inch springform pan.
To make the filling, beat the cream cheese and sugar until smooth and lump-free; add the eggs, one at a time, then the reserved egg white and vanilla.
Pour into the pastry lined pan and top with the poached quince—I removed them from the poaching liquid with a slotted spoon and placed them gently on top, but don't worry if they sink a bit.
Bake for 45-55 minutes, until the cake is puffed and golden, but still slightly jiggly in the middle; it will firm up as it cools. Let cool completely in the pan, then refrigerate for a few hours, or overnight.
If you like, brush with some of the leftover poaching syrup before serving.