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Taste This: Quince

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Ever handle a quince?

Here in the Valley, many local folks don’t know much about this fruit that looks like a funny-shaped apple. But quince has fascinated local growers for more than a century: George C. Roeding, the horticulturist and parks commissioner who lent his name to Roeding Park, is credited with importing the Smyrna quince from Turkey in the late 1800s.

Today, a handful of growers in Fresno and Tulare counties are responsible for most of the country’s commercial quince production, author Barbara Ghazarian writes in her cookbook, “Simply Quince.”

It’s not the easiest fruit to work with. Quince’s hard, astringent flesh needs a long simmer for many recipes. But patience yields good results. Depending on how its cooked, that flesh takes on a range of colors from blush to deep red.

Last weekend, the quince festival at the Vineyard farmers market showed off the possibilities of this fruit. The market sells raw quince, but last Saturday, it also featured the cooked fruit.

Local chefs served quince dishes, and three emerged as winners, says Felix Muzquiz of the Vineyard farmers market. Cracked Pepper Bistro’s pork loin with quince chutney took first place. Marian Farms’ swiss-chard-and-chicken ravioli with curry sauce and poached quince won second place. And Dusty Buns Bistro’s brown sugar quince cake — with grated quince in the batter, quince paste in the cream frosting and a dehydrated quince chip on top — came in third.

Ghazarian was at the festival, signing copies of her book and dispensing quince-cooking advice. For beginners, she advises making candied quince and chicken-and-quince stew.

Here are the recipes:

Candied quince
Makes 1 pint

1 pound fresh quince, peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch-thick wedges (about 3 cups)
3 cups sugar

Gently toss the quince wedges with the sugar in a large mixing bowl until covered. Transfer to a large, heavy-bottomed pot and cook over medium heat until the sugar melts completely and begins to bubble. Stir often so the fruit does not burn. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, for approximately 1 1/4 hours, or until the fruit is covered with a rich red caramel-colored, thick, gooey syrup.

Ladle through a wide-mouthed funnel into sterilized half-pint jars. Process, or simply cover with lids and screw tops and keep refrigerated. Chilled, candied quince will keep for months.
– “Simply Quince” by Barbara Ghazarian (Mayreni Publishing, $21.95)

Chicken and quince stew
Serves 8

3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, quartered and sliced
1 small red bell pepper, chopped (about 1 cup)
1/2 pound fresh quince, peeled, cored and cut into bite-sized pieces (1-1 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup raisins
2 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons pistachio nuts, optional

Combine the garlic and olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot and saute over medium heat until golden, about 3 minutes. Stir in the onion and continue to saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the red pepper and cook for 3 minutes, until softened.

Add the quince, raisins, broth, cumin, paprika, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, salt, and black pepper; stir well to mix. Cover, lower to medium heat, and cook at a gentle simmer for 40 minutes, or until the quince pieces are tender.

Stir in the chicken, cover, and simmer for 8-10 minutes, until the chicken is tender but cooked through.

Serve hot over couscous, pilaf or rice and garnish with parsley and pistachios, if using. If you don’t have time to prepare a side, the stew is very nice when served with crusty bread.
– “Simply Quince” by Barbara Ghazarian (Mayreni Publishing, $21.95)

Responses to "Taste This: Quince"

Ashley says:

I grew up in a house that had 2 quince trees growing in the back. At first taste it is like a green apple, only to be replaced with a wool sock. I would, and still do when the opportunity arises, trick my friends into tasting one knowing they have no clue what it is.

Quinces will always have a special place in my heart.

Stephen says:

I think everyone’s heard of a quince, but I had no idea they were grown here, were distributed so heavily from here, or how they even looked.

Good article by you, and good looking out by Ashley. I certainly would be that guy trying a bite just cuz someone told me to…