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In The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan posits that some plants beguile us into domesticating them. Apples, tulips, potatoes — they appeal, Michael claims, to fundamental human needs, and so we propagated them, ensuring their survival. They are ubiquitous now not by chance, but by design, both ours and theirs.
Quince, it seems, missed this evolutionary mandate. In fact, quince seems to have taken the opposite tack, stubbornly refusing to play nicely with modern cooks. Always pressed for time, if we cook at all, we’re unlikely to choose a fruit that cannot be eaten raw — it tastes like a mealy, sour apple. They can be difficult to peel, harder to cut and noncommittal about cooking times — 20 minutes one day, it seems, an hour another (yet mine, though slightly underripe, cooked pretty quickly).
But we genuinely think quince will indeed make you happy once you give it a try. We made our recipes as easy as possible. (Honestly, look at other recipes online. Once you tackle finding and prepping the quince, it demands very little in the way of special ingredients or fancy technique — stewing, baking, roasting, some sugar, some alcohol, maybe some spices.)
Underripe quince are really hard and particularly difficult to core. One way to make that task easier is to peel them and slice their cheeks off the core, as you would an apple or a mango. (You might try cooking them with the skin — many chefs do.) For the turnovers, we diced them small (don’t worry about making them perfectly uniform) so they cook quickly, and prep is no more arduous than if we’d used apples. You can also prep the fruit a day or so ahead of time and chill it until you are ready to assemble and bake the turnovers. Or you can assemble and freeze the turnovers for up to five days. Bake them frozen, adding four minutes to the baking time.
For the compote, same deal: Once you’ve got your cheeks ready to go, if you use that method, slicing them takes just a few minutes. Preserved in sugar syrup, they will keep for three days in the fridge and can be used in so many ways: over ice cream, with a dollop of creme fraiche; chopped and tossed in a vinegary salad; or with roasted or braised chicken thighs, pork or duck. (In the Middle East, quince partners with lamb.)
So if you are the least bit adventurous, long for more variety in your kitchen or just want to help a delicious, if difficult, player in our culinary history survive, find a quince or two this fall. Get Jane Grigson’s book, Fruit Book, likely the best source of quince information and recipes available. Before you even consider cooking them, leave a big bowl of quinces on the table to ripen and perfume your kitchen. Be patient with them and they will reward you. May you and your quince evolve together, happily ever after.