How to Eat Quince, a Forgotten Fruit

Don't be intimidated by this oft forgotten fragrant fall fruit. We'll show you how to eat quince like a pro.

Consider adding quince to your repertoire of fall dishes and desserts. Agave Studio/Shutterstock

Consider the quince: centuries ago, it was the talk of the town, eaten by kings, queens, and commoners. Often eaten with wild game, it was just as popular, if not more so, than its cousins apples and pears. With a renewed appreciation for local produce and farmers markets all over the country these days, it seems the time is ripe for a quince revival.

Quince is considered native to the Caucasus region and Western Asia, but has made its way all over the world, winning particularly ardent fans in Spain, France and Portugal with its jellies and jams. In fact, the word "marmalade" originally referred to quince jam, thanks to the Portuguese word for quince, "marmelo."

Once quince came over to the New World, it quickly caught on with colonial women, who made use of its high pectin content by making plenty of preserves. It was not uncommon for a quince tree or two to be planted in the orchards and vegetable gardens of New England colonies.

The Quirks of Quince

a knobby, yellow-green quince fruit
Don't judge a quince by its outward appearance — it's what's on the inside that counts. Golf Bravo [CC by SA 2.5]/Wikimedia Commons

Today, quince paste is still popular in the Iberian peninsula and Spanish-speaking countries, with dulce de membrillo often served in sandwiches or with Manchego cheese as an after-dinner dessert. The firm, sticky, sweet paste is also a wonderful addition to your cheese or charcuterie boards. Quince also offers a wealth of health benefits: it's high in vitamin C, zinc, iron, copper, iron, potassium and fiber.

Unfortunately, it's tough these days to find quince in a North American grocery store, or even a farmer's market, but it's worth asking around! Your best bet might be finding a neighbor who has a shrub in their backyard; the deciduous quince tree is often grown for its ornamental qualities and pretty pale pink blossoms. Though quince was originally grown in the English colonies, American farmers took them westward to cultivate in Texas and California, but there's still not a nationwide commercial quince industry (yet).

Perhaps the most important thing to know about quince is that you can't eat it raw unless, of course, you like your fruit hard, woody and astringent. You'll know a quince is ripe once it's fully yellow and its intoxicating fragrance is already in the air.

a rosy red quince tarte tatin with pistachios
Perhaps the best part about cooking with quince is the magical transformation of its color and flavor. rontav/Shutterstock

How to Prepare

Because there's so much pectin in the fruit, you'll need to roll up your sleeves and give it some tough love and affection. A sharp paring knife and careful carving skills are essential; the quince's tough skin doesn't always peel away easily. Despite that chore, you'll want to always remove the peel and core before cooking, and then you can roast, stew, puree, jelly, poach, bake or grill them to your heart's content. You can peel it with a regular vegetable peeler, as well.

Cut the peeled fruit in half, then in quarters, and cut away the center core. The fruit is tough and woody at this stage, so make sure your cutting board is firmly placed on the counter and your knife is sharp. Slice away any wormy parts or other imperfections. If you're not cooking it right away, put the pieces in a bowl of water mixed with some lemon juice to prevent browning.

If you want to keep it simple, poaching or stewing it in a sugary liquid is best. It's also a two-for-one, as you'll get tender fruit for baking and a syrup that you'll want to drizzle on just about everything including oatmeal. Don't be shy with the sugar, as quince is pretty bitter. Then put your own twist on flavors while you stew it—fresh ginger, vanilla beans, rosemary, lemon peels or cinnamon sticks are all welcome additions. Let it simmer slowly for at least 40 minutes, with a lid slightly ajar for minimal evaporation. When it's finished, the fruit will be pink and soft. Refrigerate it in the syrup or strain and use right away.

An alternative method is to cook quince whole, covered with a half-inch of water. Bring the water almost to a boil, then poach for up to 35 minutes, at which point the fruit should be easily pierced by a knife; it should feel like a ripe pear. Drain, peel, and cut the quince into quarters, then core. At this point, the fruit can be used for further poaching in sugar syrup, for jam or other preserves, or for freezing.

Another delightful surprise about quince? The longer you cook it, the prettier it becomes. That gnarled, knobby, homely little fruit will transform into a brilliant salmon-pink with the help of some heat and steam. Quince is also a lovely fruit to leave out on a sunny windowsill, as it slowly releases an intoxicating scent reminiscent of vanilla and apples. Whether you're baking a quince tarte tatin, a jam for your cheese plate, or a savory Moroccan tagine, the quirks of the quince will all be worthwhile once you've had your first bite.