Looking for ideas for the upcoming holidays?
I suspect there are few fruits in the history of mankind with such tantalizing lore as the quince. In an interview with “The Splendid Table,” noted fruit writer David Karp said that in Tudor and Stuart times, quince marmalade, wrapped in gold foil, was regarded as an aphrodisiac. At medieval courts and banquets, nobles enjoyed quince jelly for dessert.
In Greek legend, according to Karp, Helen of Troy bribed Paris to award a quince to Aphrodite as the prize in a beauty contest, thus starting the Trojan War.
The website Wise Geek notes, “Women in ancient Rome were said to take a bite of the quince before their first kiss with their husbands.” Many believe that the forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden was actually a quince instead of an apple.
One might think the quince, with such a titillating past, would be more popular in America. I suspect the fruit isn’t prevalent in Western recipes because quince should be cooked before eating. According to Karp, however, there are sweet and juicy varieties that grow in Latin America and Central Asia which can be eaten like an apple.
Quince seeds, which are poisonous, according to the website Wise Geek, also may have given quince a bad rap. I remove and discard the seeds with a sharp knife, then rinse the quince before stuffing.
I love the tart flavor of quince when baked. It tastes like a hybrid of a baked apple and a pear — a marvelous counterpoint to the earthy flavor of lamb. Karp says medieval cooks regarded the quince as a useful fruit and spiced it with pepper, ginger, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg.
Similarly, this recipe seasons the lamb with cinnamon and allspice; I imagine ginger would also be a flavorful addition.
This is the season for quince, generally available at Hiller’s, and I enjoy using them in some fashion. The following is a favorite recipe, originally adapted from Claudia Roden’s recipe from “Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey and Lebanon.” I adapted her Turkish “Ayva Dolmasi” stuffed quince recipe to my pantry and used ground lamb in the recipe, though ground beef or turkey may be substituted. I served this with a Near East quick and easy plain rice pilaf, delicious with the stuffed quinces.
If you’re looking for a romantic present for a certain heartthrob on your list, quince marmalade would be ideal. The naturally high pectin content of quince makes it ideal for marmalade and jelly. Craft the condiment in your kitchen with passion, abandonment and a loving heart. Wrap it, as did the knights and maidens of medieval times, in gold foil before giving the gift to your beloved.