Monday, November 9, 2009

Quince and the last fruits of fall

Quince, pears, hearty kiwi, apples-- these are the backyard treasures I got from my friends Molly and Bill. I set my fruit in front of a great seasonal recipe inspiration--Local Bounty by Devra Gartenstein (2008). Then I waited for Finn to show up for the photo shoot.

The smooth-skinned, tiny hearty kiwis (red and green, left bowl) from Molly and Bill were mistaken for olives when I brought them to my writing group. Not many people have seen these tiny Northwest kiwis. Liz and Michael at Grouse Mountain Farm in Chelan, offer the green variety for sale at the University District farmers' market for a few weeks in late September or early October. Another farm vendor comes in, also for a few weeks with these hearty kiwis. These sweet-tart fruits are best eaten raw, and according to Dr. Oz "thin-skinned" fruits are best in the organic version.

As for quince, the citrus-like fragrance is so heavenly that in ancient times ripe quince perfumed rooms much like air freshener does today. But quince flavor is astringent. It's an acquired taste, if you didn't grow up with it. And I didn't.

I first tasted quince when I was at the Community Food Co-op in Bellingham a few years ago. A produce worker there enchanted me with stories about all the different kinds of quince one of their local farm vendors brought in. My lips puckered as I sampled it raw, but the store worker assured me that quince is best cooked. I can't resist a the new fruit, especially if it's local and organic.

I don't remember what recipe I made when I went home. Probably something safe like a quince-apple crisp, nothing cutting edge like quince paste for a first recipe. As I revised my cookbook this last year, I added Quince Paste by Lizz Eggers in the dessert section. Also, it occurred to me that many people don't have a clue about quince and it has such a long past.

Quince has been around for over 4,000 years and was first cultivated between the Tigrus and Euphrates Rivers in what is now northern Iraq. Romans preserved quince in honey and transformed quince into wine. Some sources raise the idea that it was quince not apples that Eve picked in the Garden of Eden.

Quince is a common food in other countries and has been for centuries. It is so popular in the Middle East, people eat it like an apple. But the bright yellow, tart, apple relative enjoyed only brief popularity here, until apples pushed quince out of the spotlight. It remained in the shadows for decades.

But in the Northwest today, quince is making a come back as a respected locally-grown "heirloom" fruit. It has a small bin of it's own and a full-page sign at PCC Natural Markets. Here, curious shoppers can read a quick update on this unique fruit--its history, varieties, selection and storage. The sign at PCC also said, once the fruit is ripe, use it quickly because it doesn't keep. This is important if you're planning on cooking your fragrant fruit. When brown spots appear on the outside, they go all the way through and the flesh becomes mealy.

Will the real quince please step forward? In this photo, quince (front) with a ripe golden delicious apple from Cliffside Orchards and a Newtown Pippin' from Molly and Bill's tree. I asked Bill if quince got the dreaded coddling moth or apple maggot that apple farmers fear and he said quince trees don't have that problem. Maybe it's an easier tree fruit for beginning Northwest gardeners. Check out Raintree Nursery's quince varieties.

Finn finally showed up. He takes the photo shoot seriously, but given a choice, he'd pick the bronze beauty--the Taylor's Gold pear-a creamy fleshed, perfectly sweet pear.

No comments: