Quince are is season and they are found in Greece, Italy and throughout most of the Mediterranean basin. Quince or Cydonia Oblonga (Kydonia in Greek) grows on a small deciduous tree and it is related to the apple and pear. Quince has a high pectin content and it’s often used to make jams/marmalades.
Quince have this soft, perfume-like aroma and my Italian neighbor mentioned that they used to place quince in dresser drawers. The scent of quince is very inviting but the raw flesh of the quince is quite hard and the taste is astringent -not easy to eat raw. A quince must be cooked in order to be eaten. There are jams, it can be baked with pork dishes, turned into spoon sweets or used in an array of other desserts (I made Quince Bougatsa).
Quince grow on small trees with a mature tree growing to be a height of 15 to 25 feet high. The fruits can be picked while still green and they will ripen in a basket or in a cool cellar or pantry. Just recently I’ve discovered that quince can and do grow here in Canada and I have some family friends who so kindly give us some quince each autumn. They were also kind enough to give us some cuttings and now we have two quince trees in our backyard. We should start seeing some fruit in another couple of years and the amount the quince recipes will increase accordingly.
I do, on occasion find quince in markets here in Toronto. Some Asian stores carry them and some Italian and Greek-owned grocers carry them too! When picking a quince, they should be yellow in colour, the dreamy, perfumed aroma of the quince will waft to your nose and there may be some marks on the skin but that’s okay as they will be peeled and cooked. If looking to cook with quince immediately, avoid the green and unripe quince (unless you want them to ripen at home). Quince ripen at room temperature and you may also store them in your cellar or if you want to keep them even longer, store them in your fridge. In general, quince are available in markets in October and November.
The calendar says November, time to cook with some quince. This recipe comes from the large Sofia Skoura book titled “H Megali Ellinikh Kouzina” and although only available in Greek, it’s a great addition to those with an affinity for Greek cuisine. This dessert is very easy and very elegant and the aroma of baked quince, wine and cinnamon will seduce you and offer another fond kitchen memory. The aroma of baked quince.
I used a combination of Mavrodaphne (a Greek fortified red wine*), red table wine and sugar to sweeten the dish. If you can’t Mavrodaphne in your area then sugar, red wine and some other fortified wine like a Port will work just fine. Also thrown in the mix are some pine nuts, offering a little crunch and texture contrast to the fork-soft quince. Pine nuts are optional but insist they are worth the splurge.
What will come out of your oven are baked quince, bathed and blush from the wine, sweetened by the Mavrodaphne and and natural aroma of the quince and the cinnamon will lift you off your feet. The quince go nicely with a Pandespani (or sponge cake) a dollop of strained Greek yogurt or with some ice cream.
Baked Quince With Mavrodaphne & Pine Nuts (Κυδωνια στο Φουρνο με Μαυροδαφνη και Κουκουναρια)
Adapted from Sofia Skoura
5 ripe quince (yellow skinned)
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups red wine
1 1/2 cups Mavrodaphne wine (or Port or other fortified wine)
2 cups of water
zest of 1/2 orange
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1 cinnamon stick
Pre-heated 400F oven
- Rinse your your quince well and then cut into quarters. Now remove the core and seeds and place in a bowl with the lemon juice and then enough water to just cover (the acid in the lemon juice will prevent the quince from going brown). Set aside. Place your pine nuts in a skillet over medium-low heat and shake the pan back & forth until the pine nuts just take colour and you begin the smell them in the air. Transfer the pine nuts to a bowl and reserve.
- In a large pot, add the the water, red and fortified wines, sugar and cinnamon stick and bring to a boil. Turn down to medium and simmer for 8 minutes and set aside.
- Strain the quinces and place in a baking/casserole dish. Pour the warm wine/syrup over the quinces and the grated orange zest (and cinnamon stick). Cover and place in the pre-heated oven for 40 minutes or until the quince are fork-tender. Now uncover and bake for another 10 minutes.
- Serve on a platter topped with the pine nuts. The baked quince are wonderful with a pound/sponge cake or with some ice cream or strained Greek yogurt.
*Mavrodaphne wine is also available at some LCBO stores here in Ontario.
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