Seasonal pantry: The quince, a perfect, tart fall fruit full of pectin
Outside my living room window, which faces west, ripening quinces glisten and shimmer in the sunlight as raindrops evaporate into a halo of steam.
I have five quince trees, one of which was planted about 25 years ago when a landscaper recommended it as a fast-growing option that gophers don’t eat. Several years ago, I separated some new shoots, planted them and they quickly grew into productive trees.
Last year, the five trees produced exactly two quinces, total. A hundred yards north, a tree in a neighbor’s yard was laden with fruit. This year, there are scores, some that have fallen to the ground before ripening, with others still on their branches, slowly turning from green to gold.
These are European quinces, enormous but not as fragrant as Chinese quinces. They are tart and astringent raw, and even when cooked need sweetener to make them palatable. Quinces contain a lot of pectin and many cooks like to add one to applesauce, jams and jellies.
It is this pectin richness that gives us membrillo, i.e., quince paste. It is quite popular in Spain and is often served alongside Manchego cheese and Marcona almonds. I’ve also seen it diced and added to salads. Quince is also popular in the cuisines of North Africa and the Middle East.
Occasionally you can find quinces in a supermarket but the best sources are farmers markets, unless you have a neighbor with a tree. You can find quince paste in the cheese section of such markets as Oliver’s and Pacific.
For more quince recipes from the Seasonal Pantry archives, visit “Eat This Now” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.
This garnet-colored sauce is adapted from a recipe in a gorgeous new book, “Bottom of the Pot: Persian Recipes and Stories (Flatiron Books, 2018, $45). Author Naz Deravian offers the sauce with baked feta, which is a wonderful way to enjoy it. But it is also delicious with yogurt, alongside roasted poultry and meats and with grilled eggplant.
Cranberry Quince Sauce
Makes about 3 cups
1/2 cup apple juice
1/3 cup sugar
1 large quince, peeled, cored and diced
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
8 ounces fresh or frozen cranberries, picked over
1/4 teaspoon orange blossom water, optional
In a small pot, combine the apple juice and sugar over medium-high heat. Bring to a gentle boil to dissolve the sugar. Add the quince. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until the quince softens, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add the orange juice and cranberries and simmer uncovered until the cranberries pop, about 10 minutes.
Remove from the heat and add the orange blossom water, if using. Set aside to cool to room temperature and refrigerate. The sauce will thicken as it sits.
This is the first way I ever cooked quince and it remains a favorite way to enjoy the fruit.
You can make the dough and the filling a day in advance if you like. Just let the dough warm for about 30 minutes before rolling it out.
Quince & Raisin Strudel
Serves 6 to 8
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup old-fashioned cream cheese, at room temperature
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt