The Ubiquitous QuinceOct 01, 2018 06:07AM ● By Lesley Stiles
The Ubiquitous Quince
Unknown and Underused Fall Fruit
Honey soft, sweet, and yielding, autumn slips into out fair burg almost unnoticed at times. Small armies of squirrels race in circles from roof to tree, fulfilling their true métier of knocking acorns off trees for nourishment as well as maintaining forests of sprouting oaks to be tirelessly pulled by serious gardeners. Our DNA knows as much as the rattlers going underground and the squirrels storing nuts do that winter is coming. Duties out of doors accumulate with excitement for changing routines and quickened expectations. Cats get more exercise than usual. Indeed, we have season changes around here; you just have to pay attention to see them.
As autumn claims ownership of our October, a pressure, much as the pressure of summer’s searing heat, is released, creating a delectable environment, banishing the relentlessly thirsty fingers of a dry, hot season past. Skin perks up and energies expand into quasi-inspired levels of get ‘er done. Cleaning up gardens, sheds, houses and lives ensues. This cross into fall season is not very dissimilar to dawning of spring from winter.
Fall produce in our area is anything but barren on the taste buds. Of course the ever popular and extremely juicy summer peaches and nectarines are fading from the scene, but enter the pears, apples and Fuyu persimmons, the pomegranates, the grapes…these fruits hold their own on that flavor scale and more.
Underused as well as much less unknown is the ubiquitous quince. Appearing as an otherworldly cross between apples and pears, quince is a lesson in contradictions. Bearing brilliant ruby blossoms on long gangly stalks in spring, quince morphs into lumpy, bumpy, misshapen, grey fuzz covered, extremely bitter fruits as the flowers fall. Autumn quince, however, after months of ripening on the tree, emerge much as a beautiful butterfly or a shoeless princess as smooth, creamy yellow, slightly misshapen crosses between pear and apple.
Ancient in lineage, hailing from Turkey and across Southeast Asia, at some point quince ended up in a Roman pot leading to migration to the Americas around the 15th century.
Quince possesses an amazingly sweet fragrance but tastes sour and tannic, virtually inedible, when raw. Once cooked, however, pale quince magically become deep, ruby red and transform into rich, honey and rose flavored treats that bear a heavenly scent of vanilla, citrus and apple, generously perfuming wherever you are storing or preparing it.
What to do in the garden
In the vegetable garden it is time to get cracking and clean up the old summer crops and get in the winter foods, if you have not already done so. Lettuce, arugula, spinach, carrots, and radish are sown by seed into heavily composted and mulched rows. Bok choy, tat soi, mustard greens, chards, and kales feel the need to be buried in rich, velvety soil and released from seed packets as well. Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts will be better off put in from nursery bought plants at this point to take advantage of a full crop come January. Sweet peas and most bulbs do best planted now, as do poppies, lupines, snap dragons, and pansies, paying off the effort in full with amazing and glorious spring blooms. Patience is the word of the day for the winter gardener. Hope and relax echo nicely as well.
Peppers turn scarlet on the vines, fully mature, beckoning to be pulled and grilled with lusciously unctuous olive oil and cracked salt. Butternut squash and pumpkins turn orange next to still flirty tomatoes playing off each other like courting couples waiting to dine together. It’s an amazing crossover time in the garden as well as at the farmers’ markets. Changing seasons translate into changing menus as meals start to move indoors and go from cold or room temperature salads and antipasti to hot and hearty rich stews and warming soups. Last dash canners and preservers kick into high gear, mimicking the squirrels’ efforts to get the winter stocks in before summer has completely disappeared.
A fine relish accompanying meats or fish, it is also really good with cheese and crackers like a pepper jelly. I usually find myself making it with beautiful old tomatoes straggling into the market or hanging lonely on the vine at the end of the season
2 pounds any kind of ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and chopped
1 1/2 cups turbinado sugar
Peel and juice of 2 to 3 lemons, no seeds!
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons salt
Place all together in a heavy bottomed saucepan and simmer until thick and gooey!
Makes 2 cups.
Strawberry and Basil Jam
2 cups sugar
1 large lemon, zested and juiced
2 large or 4 small basil leaves
2 pints fresh strawberries, hulled and halved
Combine the sugar, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over very low heat for 10 minutes, until the sugar is dissolved. Add the strawberries and continue to cook over very low heat for 35 minutes, until the strawberries release some of their juices and the mixture boils slowly. Cook until a small amount of the juice gels on a very cold plate, about 30 minute more. (I keep one in the freezer.) Pour carefully into two sterile pint canning jars and place either 1 big or 2 small basil leaves in each jar. Either process in a water bath for 10 minutes or keep refrigerated. Refrigerated jam will keep for a couple of weeks.