There is something about quince that really takes me back to my childhood. I always remember having it either as a jam or a preserve or a thick jelly-like paste, moderately sweet, something vaguely exotic about it, and with that unmistakable texture, like a thousand tiny grains in your mouth. I can’t say it was ever my absolute favorite dessert as a kid. It was probably my second least favorite, behind a preserve made from bitter green oranges called kitromilo. But it was, and is, a taste of home, as familiar as my mom’s avgolemono soup and rose-flavored ice cream.
The funny thing is that I never actually saw an uncooked quince until I moved to the US and found it many years later at a farmer’s market. You’ll know it’s there before you see it. If the quince is ripe, it perfumes the air with the scents of apples and pears and vanilla, with a hint of something flowery (maybe cardamom?). But don’t be tempted to take a bite. Quinces are incredibly astringent when raw. But when cooked, they become sweet and soft, while changing color from white to pink and apricot hues.
So, as you plan your Thanksgiving meal, looking at yet another variation on pecan pie and pumpkin pie, consider this: quince slices, poached in a delicately spiced juice, served with a dollop of whipped cream. It’s the dessert for that moment when everyone says they simply have no more room in their bellies. Or even better, it’s the simple breakfast for you the next morning.
Quince Poached in Juice – Adapted from Plenty More: Vibrant Vegetable Cooking from London’s Ottolenghi
2 large quinces, peeled and quartered
3½ cups pomegranate juice, tart cherry juice, or cranberry juice
5½ tablespoons sugar
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise, seeds scraped
rind from one (preferably unsprayed) orange, shaved in strips with a vegetable peeler
¼ cup fresh orange juice
2 star anise pods
Remove the core from the quince quarters. Discard half of the cores and tie the remaining half in a bundle using double-layered cheese cloth. Cut the quince quarters in half lengthwise. You will have 16 quince slices.
Place the quince slices in a large saucepan and add the juice, sugar, vanilla bean and seeds, orange rind, orange juice, and star anise. Add the bundle of cores and bring to a boil. Turn down heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cover the pan. Cook for about 20 minutes until the quince quarters are soft.
Using a slotted spoon, remove quince slices and set aside. Keep lid off pan and bring back to a low boil. Cook sauce for about 30 minutes until it has reduced and is slightly thicker (the consistency of thin syrup). Remove from heat and remove and discard core bundle, rind, star anise, and vanilla bean. Return quince slices in saucepan and stir gently to coat.
Serve warm or chilled (let quince cool in syrup and chill, covered, in fridge). Top with a dollop of whipped cream, crème fraîche, or clotted cream.