Quintessential Quince

Fresh-cut quinceI bought my first quince with low expectations. Hard and green with no scent, the lumpy-looking pear with the stubby neck hardly seemed worth $2.

Where was the golden orb I’d read about that perfumed a room? What inspired poet Edward Lear to have his Owl and Pussycat dine on mince and slices of quince before dancing by the light of the moon?

I guess that’s one reason this once-common backyard fruit has fallen out of favour in North America — finding the quintessential quince takes patience.

Poaching in water and an alarming amount of sugar is the most common way to prepare quince, which is too dry and astringent to eat raw. But my pale yellow slices certainly weren’t turning pink, as others had so breathlessly described.

Quince simmer in sugar waterThen the oddest thing happened. After removing the cooked slices from the poaching liquid, I decided to slice and poach one more quince. As it cooked, the water turned a delicate pink, and my kitchen began to smell like apples, roses and honey. It even turned the other slices pink!
When I reduced the cooking liquid to see what would happen, the fruit’s powerful pectin kicked in, turning the liquid into a pink translucent jelly that firmed up as it cooled. It looked and tasted like Turkish Delight!
Since then, I’ve been serving thin slices of rose-flavoured jelly with fresh Monforte sheep’s cheese — my version of Spain’s fabulous quince paste, membrillo, with aged Manchego cheese.
Perhaps $2 is a bargain for this exotic treat.


  • Look for California quince in specialty produce stores and Italian markets from September to December.
  • Avoid fruit with brown spots. Handle gently.
  • Store up to two weeks in the fridge in a perforated plastic bag.


Wash and rub off any fuzz. Peel the thin skin, if desired, and cut in quarters.

Remove the hard core carefully with a sharp knife.


  • Quinces cook just like apples but they can take up to twice as long.
  • Poach quince up to a week in advance and refrigerate in its poaching liquid.
  • Spoon poached slices over vanilla ice cream and top with poaching liquid thickened to a glaze.
  • Add exotic flavour to fruit crisp by replacing a quarter or a third of apples or pears with cooked quince. Add to applesauce, too.
  • If you can’t be bothered poaching quince first, grate it raw right into a bowl of apple or pear slices destined for a pie or crumble.
  • Make a compote with poached dried apricots and prunes.
  • In the Middle East, where quince is still widely grown, it’s stewed with meat. My next project is Alice Waters’ lamb tajine.
  • English diva Nigella Lawson bakes quince halves, skin-side down, with a little butter and maple syrup for three hours at 300F (150C).
Quince apple tart
Quince apple tart

Quince and Apple Tart

Adapted from Alice Waters’ lovely cookbook Chez Panisse Fruit (Harper Collins). Serve leftover poached slices for breakfast or over ice cream, topped with thickened cooking liquid. They keep for weeks in the fridge.

 Poached Quince:

4 large quince

2 cups (500 mL) sugar

6 cups (1.5 L) water

1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

1/2 lemon, sliced in rings


3 medium apples, peeled, quartered, sliced 1/4-inch thick

3/4 cup (185 mL) apple cider

Half a 397 g pkg  puff pastry, thawed overnight

1 tbsp (15 mL) melted butter

2 tbsp (30 mL) granulated sugar

1/2 cup (125 mL) reserved quince poaching liquid

For poached quince, quarter, peel and core quinces. Slice 1/4-inch (.5 cm) thick.

In large pot, combine sugar and water. Bring to boil and simmer until sugar dissolves. Scrape vanilla seeds into syrup; add bean and lemon slices.

To keep fruit submerged, cover with a parchment paper circle and weigh down with a plate. Simmer 40 minutes, or until tender. Make up to a week in advance and refrigerate in its cooking liquid.

For tart, place a third of the apple slices in a pot. Add 1 cup (250 mL) poached quince slices and 1/2 cup (125 mL) cider. Bring to boil and simmer over low heat, breaking up with back of a spoon. Cook until liquid boils off and you have sauce, about 30 minutes. If desired, whip to a smooth paste with an immersion blender.

Roll puff pastry into an 8 by 16-inch rectangle about 1/8 inch thick. Transfer pastry to a parchment-lined baking sheet. With a sharp paring knife, trim off and save a 1/2-inch strip from all four sides. Dip a pastry brush in water and paint a 1/2-inch  border around outside edge of pastry. Place strips on painted border to form a rim. Brush rim with melted butter and refrigerate 10 minutes.

Remove shell from fridge and spread apple-quince sauce evenly on bottom. Alternate poached quince and sliced raw apples over sauce. Sprinkle fruit and tart rim evenly with sugar.

Bake at 400F for 40 minutes, or until pastry edges are dark golden brown. Immediately slide tart onto a cooling rack. Cook reserved poaching liquid with remaining cider to a thick syrup and use to  glaze tart. Serve hot or warm with whipped cream.

Makes 8 servings.

First published Oct. 17, 2013 in The Toronto Star


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