Simply Quince by P.G.’s Barbara Ghazarian is a pioneering book for a pioneering fruit.
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Quince may well be the most under-appreciated fruit in this country, which is surprising since the Pilgrims considered it essential enough to cultivate less than a decade after settling in Massachusetts. By 1720, quince was thriving throughout the colonies.
In fact, quince was popular until the late 19th century, when modern tastes evolved and deemed it too hard and astringent for eating out of hand and its preparation too time consuming.
Pacific Grove author Barbara Ghazarian hopes to revive the reign of quince with her new cookbook Simply Quince. The cookbook relates the fruit’s rich history, provides tips and tricks, and proffers traditional and new ways to prepare the fruit – all within reach of a beginning cook.
Steeped in history and lore, the fruiting quince (Cydonia oblonga) is native to the Caucus region of Armenia, Georgia, and northern Iran, where the quince still grows wild today. Some biblical scholars believe that the apple that tempted Eve actually refers to quince. The Greeks regarded quince as a symbol of love and fertility, and in Tudor England, quince marmalade wrapped in gold foil was considered an aphrodisiac.
For Ghazarian, who also authored Simply Armenian: Naturally Healthy Ethnic Cooking Made Easy, the quince holds special meaning. As a teenager, she would help her Armenian grandma pick quinces from the three trees in her yard, and she fondly remembers the heady aroma of ripe quince permeating her grandma’s tiny house as they sat in the hallway waiting to be cooked. After her grandma died, Ghazarian started the family tradition of “quincing” in her memory.
This fuzz-covered cousin of pears and apples is astringent and mouth puckering when raw and rarely eaten as a fresh fruit. However its mild flavor, and rich, intense scent lends itself to many cooked dishes.
Until Simply Quince, quince was usually made into jams, jellies and the popular Spanish paste membrillo. Ghazarian has shown us that quince is so versatile, delicious when poached, tossed into salads and stews, and made into fillings for pies and tarts. The collection of 70 recipes stretches the imagination, offering both familiar and innovative recipes: quince salsa; quince and butternut soup with curry; quince-cranberry sauce; quince-apple pie; white pizza with quince, prosciutto, asiago cheese and chives; and quince-infused spirits grappa and vodka.
If you, like me, are a quince newbie, the four “Quince Basics” in the book are a perfect way to start – poached, pureed (then cooked into paste), candied and baked. For those who prefer savory over sweet, the five stew selections require only one to two fresh quinces, and all are easy, one-pot meals. Ghazarian’s personal favorites are the lamb and quince tagine, turkey chili with quince, and the vegetarian quince and parsnip medley.
Quince is in season from August to December. Look for it at farmers markets and ethnic and specialty markets. Even if you can’t find it, you’re in luck: Ghazarian gives you tips on how to cultivate your own quince tree.