If you don’t know what a quince is, you might be fooled. Come autumn, they’ll be nestled in the fruit bins at your grocery store, looking for all the world like a lumpy cross between a Golden Delicious apple and a pear. You may even find them cooked and tucked into favorite fruit desserts like our apple quince pie. But trust, quince is an ingredient that’s in a class of its own.
What is Quince?
Quince is a lumpy pear-shaped fruit that when ripe is nearly identical in color to a Golden Delicious apple. Unlike apples and pears, a ripe quince has a hard texture; if you find a soft one, it’s tipped over the edge from ripe to rotten. The skin is thin, and if you cut into it, the flesh is tough and spongy. This may sound unappealing, but the fruit’s tempting fragrance makes up for it. Quince smells like a vanilla-scented orange.
Pro tip: Quinces are available in supermarkets from September through December. To choose the best quince, look for large, firm fruit that is yellow with little or no green color. Wrapped in plastic, they can keep in the refrigerator for up to three months.
The Fruit’s Famous History
Quince is one of the most famous fruits in the world, and yet many people have never heard of it (and fewer have tasted it)—mostly because the apple seems to have stolen its identity. Odds are that the famous apples in both the Garden of Eden and the Song of Solomon were actually references to quinces. For the ancient Greeks, the quince became associated with love and fertility. It was a staple ingredient in wedding feasts and cakes—and often the fruit would be tossed to newly wedded couples as a token of commitment.
Though apples have gone mainstream in modern-day kitchens, the lesser-known quince still deserves a place on your menu. Here’s how to cook with it:
How to Eat Quince
Quinces are almost completely inedible until they’re cooked. With its amazing aroma, you might be tempted to scoop one up and bite into it. Resist. Seriously. In most parts of the world, the tough, spongy flesh of a quince has an astringent, sour taste. But when they’re cooked? That’s when the magic happens. Quince is one of those curious fruits, like persimmons, that requires a little bit of effort—but the payoff makes them worth the trouble.
Quince Jams, Jellies & Marmalade
So how do modern cooks use quince? Quince’s high pectin content makes it ideal for jams and jellies, and quince jelly is a time-honored ingredient in some amazing recipes, especially special-occasion dishes like our Glazed Spatchcocked Chicken.
One of the most widely known uses of quince is as a firm paste (called membrillo in Spain and Pate de Coings or Cotignac in France) that’s served in slices with cheese or crisp bread; look for it in gourmet or specialty shops, or order it online.
Taste of Home
If you want to use quince at home, you can make your own quince marmalade (check out the recipe here). In a way, you’ll be righting a wrong. Apples weren’t the only fruit to steal quince’s thunder—oranges have done their part as well!
Fun fact: Marmalade actually gets its name from marmelo, the Portuguese word for quince—and for a long time, quince was the only fruit used to make it. The need to cook quince before eating it led the Romans to discover the gelling possibilities of pectin, and it took a while to discover that other fruits contained the same potential.
How to Poach Quince
The simplest way to prepare quince at home is to poach it.
Step 1: Peel, core and quarter 5-6 quince, and place the fruit in a large pot with water (about 7 cups) and a natural sweetener (a mixture of sugar and honey works beautifully).
Step 2: Add half a lemon and whatever spices you like—vanilla beans, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves or star anise all go great with quince.
Step 3: Bring it to a boil, then let it simmer until you can pierce the quince with a knife—usually about 1-2 hours.
To store, keep it in a covered container, with the poaching liquid, in the refrigerator.
Another easy option is to bake or roast quince. Cooked quince can be eaten straight, spooned over cake or ice cream, mixed into yogurt—or even used as an ingredient in other recipes, including cakes and pies.
Step 1: Peel and core the fruit and cut it into quarters or slices.
Step 2: Place in a baking dish, drizzle it with honey and add some fruit juice (lemon, orange or apple all work well, or a splash of brandy if you like), and your choice of spices.
Step 3: Cover and bake at 300° until the quince becomes translucent (about an hour), then uncover and bake about 10-15 minutes more to thicken the juice.
More Ways to Cook Quince
- Core the quince and treat it like a baked apple—like this recipe for Spiced Baked Apples—but keep in mind that the cooking time is roughly double what’s needed for an apple.
- Add it to an apple pie. For all the rivalry between quince and apple, they do pair up beautifully. But remember, you’ll still need to give it a bit of cooking before adding it to the pie—we walk you through it with this recipe for Apple Quince Pie.
- If you like your pork accompanied by applesauce, try this Pork with Savory Quince Compote. If you’re roasting a cut of pork or any type of poultry, try cutting a quince into chunks and putting it in the roasting pan alongside. Not only is the flavor terrific, but it’s a great tenderizer.