Farmers' Kitchen—The Versatile Quince
Written onDecember 01 , 2010
When asked “Why quince?” Zeke Goodband, the orchard manager at Scott Farm in Dummerston, will answer, “Because they are a wonderful fruit.” So wonderful that he sips on quince nectar during the farm’s annual Heirloom Apple Day, when he leads three apple tastings and speaks at length about the many heritage apple varieties growing at Scott Farm.
While much of the farm is planted with apples, one will find—beyond the rows of Baldwin, Orleans Reinette, and D’Arcy Spice—small, graceful quince trees with fuzzy-backed leaves. Quince, which is related to the apple and the pear, has a flavor of honeyed pear and apple with overtones of vanilla, hints of pineapple, and exotic guava. When fully ripened, quince may scent a room, and they are a treat to eat, whether poached, roasted, pureed, or baked. But they are hardly ever eaten raw, as they have a hard, gritty, grainy, and astringent flesh.
My husband, David Tansey, is president of Landmark Trust USA, which owns Scott Farm, and he is also the farm manager. I do writing and photography for the farm. We take frequent walks through the orchard, and from bud until harvest, we like to keep an eye on the development of the quince, delighting in the tightly furled, pink buds that untwist into crimson-veined, cup-shaped blossoms. The immature fruits are covered in a beige-pink, felt-like skin that turns green as the fruits grow. By October the quince take on a sunny, golden yellow color, and whether the variety is pear-shaped or flattened and round, they brighten the orchard at midday and lend a glow in the early evening.
Quince (Cydonia oblonga), a native of Persia, have been cultivated for more than 4,000 years. In paintings, Venus is often depicted holding this fruit of love and happiness in her right hand, and it is quite possible that it was quince and not apple that got Adam’s Eve into trouble. Quince paste, so thick you can cut it with a knife, is a traditional food in the Mediterranean. The Portuguese call it marmelada, the Spanish membrillo, and in Sicily everyone gets into the act when quince are ripe to make cotognata. It is delicious with sharp or creamy cheeses, a treat on morning toast, or as a sweet end to a meal.
Following is a recipe for poached quince. But one of the easiest ways to prepare quince is to toss unpeeled, cored chunks of it into the roasting pan alongside freshly harvested carrots, chopped lovage, onion and a leg of lamb. We do the same when roasting a chicken, deglazing the pan with water, white wine, or better yet, Calvados, to make a sublime juice to drizzle over the meat and vegetables. This year we will surely add quince to the preparation of our Christmas goose.
The Scott Farm has been in active cultivation since 1791. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has been owned since 1995 by The Landmark Trust USA, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to rescue important but neglected historic properties and to bring them back to life. In season, the farm sells gooseberries, blueberries, raspberries, peaches, pears, plums, nectarines, white peaches, grapes, pumpkins, medlars, quince, and an extensive selection of heirloom apples. Contact scottfarmvermont.com or 802-254-6868.
Photo by Jane Booth