When you hold a Frog Hollow Farm quince in your hands, a culinary adventure awaits you. This is not your typical fruit – you must cook it to enjoy it for its flavor, texture and jewel-like color. But the first step is to get to know quince and what it’s all about.
Described as the “golden apple,” quince takes us back in history to Mesopotamia, Israel, Greece and the civilizations that sprung up around the Mediterranean Sea. Ancient cooks appreciated quince for its beautiful color and sublime sweetness. A lucky quince fruit eventually landed in the right hand of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and fertility, and became part of her incredible story. Later, 5th century Roman cooks instructed people to bathe quince in wine and honey.
There are several quince varieties – here at Frog Hollow Farm we grow Smyrna and Pineapple quince. We caught up with Mario Hernandez, Frog Hollow Farm Culinary Manager, who works with Chef Becky to develop new recipes from the fruits we grow. Mario has some great ideas for cooks who are new to quince, as well as for those who’ve worked with it before.
Q: What makes Frog Hollow Farm quince unique?
A: Our quince fruits are organically grown, like all our fruit here at the farm. Our quince fruits are large, so you get a lot of volume when you cook with them. And they have an excellent texture that’s great to work with.
Q: How do I know when quince is ripe?
A: Different varieties tell us they’re ripe in different ways. Our quince varieties turn a lovely yellow color, and that’s when we know they are ready to pick. They don’t soften up, like many fruits do when they’re ripe. But they do change color from green to yellow.
Quince has a fuzzy skin, so you need to wash that off before you start working with it. Use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin. Quince is in the apple and pear family, so its flesh will turn brown once you cut it, just like an apple or pear would. You can submerge the quince in water with a few drops of lemon juice, and that will keep it from turning brown while you’re getting everything ready.
Q: Why do I have to cook quince to enjoy it?
A: Quince is hard, astringent and fibrous, so you really can’t eat it right off the tree. I have heard of quince varieties that you can eat without cooking, but our varieties need to be cooked. You can poach it in a little water with sugar, and add some aromatics, like cinnamon or star anise or a little vanilla. Add the aromatics separately, not all at once. These make the quince smell very nice. The quince starts to turn a slight pink color after about 60 minutes of poaching. Be sure to simmer, but not boil, the quince.
From there, you can remove the quince from the poaching liquid, puree it, and then return it to the liquid and cook it until it starts to turn an amazing orange color. It’s really fun to watch it transition from light pink to bright orange.
Q: What are some ways to cook with quince?
A: Quince is very versatile. We make quince cake using almond flour and cornmeal. We poach the quince ahead of time so it’s soft, and then we make the batter. We put the batter in a loaf pan and add the quince so when you cut into it once it’s cooked, the beautiful orange quince is in the middle – it looks great. Quince is also perfect for making jellies and conserves because it’s very high in pectin, which helps the batch thicken and set. I also like to add some quince to apple pies. The quince adds a unique texture and flavor. I usually poach mine for about 20 to 25 minutes before putting them in the pie. Some people poach the quince in apple juice to get the flavor of the apples and a nice texture in the pie.
And of course, many people love membrillo, or quince paste. We make membrillo by simmering it for 60 minutes, then pureeing the quince and cooking the puree down with some added sugar for an additional 1 ½ hour. Then we shape the puree into blocks. The best membrillo is cured for 60 to 90 days – curing it in a dark place dries it out. Membrillo is excellent with Manchego cheese and cheese that are made with sheep milk.
Q: Final words of advice before we dive in?
A: Don’t let recipes hold you back. Use them for guidance and then make something your own.