What is a Quince and How Do You Eat It?

Wikipedia//CC BY-SA 3.0
Wikipedia//CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikipedia//CC BY-SA 3.0

Although it’s nearly winter, certain fruits are still in season. If you’re looking for a natural treat to stir into puddings, mix into cobblers, or simmer on your stovetop, consider the quince.

The lumpy fall fruit looks similar to a pear, with golden flesh and yellow skin that’s either smooth or covered with fuzz. It’s tough and bitter, but when cooked in sugar and water, its meat turns pink, and the harsh flavor mellows into a smooth sweetness.

Chances are you’ve never spotted a quince in the produce section of your local grocery store. However, civilizations across Asia, North Africa, southeast Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America have cultivated the quince for thousands of years. Charlemagne grew quince trees in his royal garden. The fruit was commonly used in ancient Greek and Roman dishes and colonial Americans also harvested the fruit to use its pectin to make jams and jellies.

If the quince has such a storied legacy, then why did it disappear from our diets? As powdered pectin became more common, the fruit declined in popularity. The quince also carries diseases like fireblight and quince rust, which can harm neighboring trees. Today, California is the only state in the U.S. that grows quince commercially. Your best bet for finding the fruit is to peruse upscale grocery stores, ethnic markets, or farmer’s markets between October and early January.

If you do obtain a quince, you'll likely want to use it in savory dishes, like pork roasts or glazed chicken. The fruits can also be cooked into a sweet pastry or pie filling or poached like apples and served with ice cream. Don’t be afraid to be creative—or to embrace the many possibilities of this forgotten fruit.