Fresh quince look like bumpy apples or rounded pears, with yellow skin and creamy white flesh. I thought the season was over but found some at the farmers market this weekend. "Isn't the season for quince done?" I asked the farmer. He smiled: "I made sure they shook the tree to get the very last of them," he said with a wink. They're a delicacy, and the season is short even here in southern California, where, improbably, you can find local rhubarb in November and strawberries in January.
You can't eat quince raw - well, you can try, but you won't like it. The best way to prepare quince is to peel it and poach the sections in simple syrup. The color of cooked quince is a sneaky surprise. When you peel quince, the flesh is white. But put the sections in a pot with some sugar and water, turn on a low flame, and come back an hour later, and they've turned the color of cantaloupe. Let the poached sections sit in the syrup for a day or two, and they're positively orange.
I had quince poached with saffron and rosewater a few months ago at Sauce on Hampton, a little gem of a restaurant near the beach in Venice, and it was exotic squared - the creamy texture of the fruit, the musky overtone of the saffron. At home I'm more of a simpleton. I add vanilla and lemon juice, and that's it. You can put the poached quince over yogurt, I suppose, but I like it all by itself.
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup sugar
- juice of 1 lemon
- 1/2 vanilla bean
- 2 pounds fresh quince
Carefully cut the quince into quarters, peel the sections, and remove the seeds. I say "carefully" because they are extremely hard, and without a very sharp knife (even with one) you need to exercise caution should you want to keep your hands intact. Cut the peeled fruit into wedges, dropping them into the pot of sugar water as you finish with them. Continue until you have peeled and cut all the quince.
Bring the pot to a simmer, then turn the heat down as far as it will go and cover the pot. Let the quince simmer about an hour, or until the sections are tender and easily pierced with a knife. Remove the pot from the heat and let cool in the syrup. Refrigerate the fruit and syrup together. You can eat the quince right away, but if you leave it overnight, the color will deepen. Serve alone or over yogurt.