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The quince: Queen of the fall fruits

October 17, 2011 | 12:13 pm

Quince

Everyone has their favorite fall fruit. For some, it's persimmons; others love apples or pears. For me, it's the quince, oddball fruit that it is. When I spotted the first ones of the year at the Long Beach farmers market Sunday, I felt like running up and down hollering, "The quince are here! The quince are here!"

The quince doesn't inspire that kind of reaction in many people. In fact, I had a half-dozen shoppers come up and ask me what in the world were those things I was buying and what did I plan to do with them (the fact that I was picking out 15 pounds of them inspired some curiosity).

Quince look like a kind of prehistoric pear, all knobby and wooden. In fact, most varieties are really tough to eat raw -- they're extremely tannic. But cook them and they turn meltingly tender, with a lovely rosy color and a fragrance and flavor that for me conjures up pears and spices and maybe a touch of orange flower water thrown in.

My favorite way to cook them comes from my old friend Deborah Madison (indeed, she's the one who introduced me to the quince back in the early 1980s, at the first farmers market in New Mexico -- my how time flies).

Essentially, you just peel and core the fruit, then cut it into thin slices. Arrange it in a baking dish and pour over a spiced syrup based on sugar, wine and water. Then you bake it until it's done ... it'll take a couple of hours. (You'll find Deborah's full recipe after the jump.)

As you can tell, I make a huge batch -- it keeps well in the refrigerator. Then when I feel the itch for something a little sweet after dinner, I spoon some out and top it with a dollop or two of good yogurt.

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-- Russ Parsons

Upper photo credit: David Karp.

Lower photo credit: Russ Parsons / Los Angeles Times

Quince
Nearly candied quince

Adapted from Deborah Madison's "Seasonal Fruit Desserts"

3 cups water or 2 cups Riesling plus 1 cup water
1 1/2 cups sugar
Zest of 1 tangerine or 3 wide strips orange zest
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds
3 cloves
6 large quince, peeled, cored and sliced (about 4 cups)
1/4 cup late-harvest Riesling, Muscat or other dessert wine

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Combine the water, sugar, zest, cinnamon and spices in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir to dissolve the sugar, then simmer over low heat while you slice the quince.

Peel the quince, cut them into wedges about 3/4 inch wide at the center and remove the cores. Put them in a shallow dish, like a gratin dish. Pour two-thirds of the syrup over the fruit, including the spices. Bake, uncovered, for about 2 hours, turning the fruit every 30 minutes for the first 1 1/2 hours and then more frequently during the last 30 minutes, as the syrup will be well-reduced by then. You want it to caramelize and thicken but not burn. When done, the quince should be nearly translucent and slightly rosy.

Remove from the oven and immediately add the remaining wine. At this point, you can use the sticky, candied pieces as a sweetmeat or with a slice of cheese. To store them, add the remainder of the syrup and keep in the refrigerator.
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