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Whole Foods Companion Presents: The Quince

The following is an excerpt from Whole Foods Companion: A Guide for Adventurous Cooks, Curious Shoppers, and Lovers of Natural Foods by Dianne Onstad. It has been adapted for the Web.

Lore and Legend

The Greeks and Romans held the quince sacred to Venus, who is often depicted with a quince in her right hand as the gift she received from Paris. Being the sacred fruit of the goddess of love, the quince was regarded as the symbol of love, happiness, and fertility. In Athens quinces were tossed into the bridal chariot in which the groom was conducting his bride to their new home, where she would be offered a piece of wedding cake flavored with sesame, honey, and, as a charm for fruitfulness, either a date or a quince. Quinces were also thought to be the forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden. In Roman times, as described by Plutarch, the quince was picked green, submerged in honey, and left to ripen in time to serve at Roman wedding feasts as a perfect symbolic dessert. The custom of a newly married pair sharing a quince as a token of love was handed down, and throughout the Middle Ages quinces were used at every wedding feast. The “golden apples” of Virgil are believed to be quinces, as they were the only “golden” fruit known in his time, oranges having only been introduced later at the time of the Crusades. Quinces were also reputed to protect against the Evil Eye, and were painted on the walls and eaves of Roman houses for that purpose.

Health Benefits

pH 3.12–3.70. The fruit has an acid taste, is slightly astringent, makes a good sedative, and is an effective stomach medicine, allaying gas and vomiting. When used in its fully ripened state without the addition of sugar, quince is beneficial for the liver, counteracts constipation, and helps alkalinize the system. Underripe fruits are extremely acidforming. The juice makes an excellent gargle.

Culinary Uses

Quince have a musky, penetrating aroma reminiscent of pineapple, guava, pear, or apple, depending on the variety you have in hand, but their flavor is rather bland and acidic. This green to golden-colored pome is unusual among fruits in that it is almost always eaten cooked. Its yellow flesh tends to be acidic, hard, and rather unpalatable (although on rare occasions one finds a fully treeripened one) but when cooked becomes tender, scented, and tasty, turning a delightful shade of pink. The fruit maintains its shape beautifully even with long cooking, and so it affords grandiose experimentation. Stewing, baking, poaching, or braising brings out the unique quince flavor, which complements meat, savory, or sweet dishes. Stewed, they make an excellent dessert, a breakfast dish with cream, or a side dish. Or add a small proportion of cooked fruit to pear and apple dishes (including pies and applesauce) for a surprising amplification of flavor. Most often, though, the fruit is simply made into preserves, either alone or mixed with other fruits such as apples and pears. It has even more pectin (the thickening agent of preserves) than apples and thus is well suited to this purpose. Although the peel cooks to an edible texture, it is best removed, as it tends to add an undesirable bitterness.

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