Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Quince

There's this quince bush growing in our yard. I planted it more than 12 years ago and, over that period, moved it three times until I finally found the right spot for it about 5 years ago. It's now about 8 feet tall and wide. When I purchased the plant I thought it was a "flowering" quince, genus Chaenomeles, which does not bear fruit. Mis-labeled in the nursery, much to my delight this is the real thing, a true quince, genus Cydonia. They are related to apples and pears and often are used as root stock for pear trees.

In the late winter my somewhat ugly duckling of a quince bush puts out apple blossom-like pinkish-white flowers - rather sporadically. What it lacks in prolific bloom display it makes up for with large, deliciously scented fruits. Sometimes I get a lot of fruit, sometimes only 5 or 6. It seems to me that its blooming and fruiting habits depend on the weather. If we get a particularly cold winter, the quince will put out more fruit, which will be ready to pick the following Autumn to winter. Right now, there are 5 quince fruits on the bush - two large, 3 small. I also found one on the ground which you see pictured below, sitting next to me perfuming the air as I type. (The 3-legged "chanchito" beside the quince lives there. It's my computer fairy. Woe to anyone who moves it.)

The scent of a quince is hard for me to describe. There's vanilla, honey and something slightly peachy-melony about it. It's ethereal, like the scent of violets; one minute it's there and the next it's gone.

I fell in love with quince a number of years ago when I lived in the Sacramento Valley. A neighbor had a quince bush and gave me a few fruits every fall. Loving the smell of them but not knowing how to cook them, I pored through cookbooks only to find recipes for quince jelly for which I never had enough fruits. I figured out that I could peel, core and slice them, place the slices in a saucepan with some water and sugar and cook them until soft. The transformation was nothing short of miraculous as the hard, sharply astringent yellow-white pieces melted into pink, soft, sweet, almost jellybean-like goodness that was heavenly to eat by itself or spoon over vanilla ice cream, which is the only thing I could figure out to do with them at the time. Since then I've found other ways to use them: In quince-raisin tarte tatin; stewing them with apples for applesauce; adding them to savory winter stews or squash soups redolent with allspice and herbs.

This year, because we're leaving on a lengthy trip in 3 days, which I'll tell you about in another post, I'll have to wait a month more before trying another recipe. I hope my quinces stay on the bush during the time I'm gone.

This is my offering for Weekend Herb Blogging, a weekly event started by Kalyn at Kalyn's Kitchen. Each week, food bloggers can join in by posting about an herb, plant, garden vegetable or fruit of their choice. Kalyn will be posting a round-up of participants this Sunday. Be sure to take a peek at what food bloggers from around the world are writing about the plant world. If you'd like to join in, click here to find out how.
Update: Because so many who left comments have either never seen or never tasted quince, here is a link where you can not only see it in its most popular form, membrillo, you can order it too. The on-line store is called La Tienda dot Com and features food products from Spain. Be sure to order or pick up some manchego cheese while you're at it. Membrillo and manchego are delicious together.