In Germany, like in the United States, quinces were a forgotten fruit for a long time – until the Slow Food Movement rediscovered them.
Quince trees can become very old, up to 100 years. Therefore a quince tree planted at the beginning of the 20th century, when there were two dozen varieties of quinces available in Germany, was not an uncommon sight in backyards. The house in Frankfurt where my family moved when I was nine years old had one. Every year for Christmas, the elderly landlady, who lived on the ground floor, gave us a box with homemade diamond-shaped quince confection rolled in coarse sugar. I disliked it every much, and so did my parents. But since throwing out edible food was never an option, the box was always duly stored in the drawer with the other sweets. Then the same thing happened every year. At some point, after all my grandmother’s Christmas cookies had been eaten, and we were completely out of chocolate or anything else to satisfy our sweet tooth, one of us would start eating the quince confection. By spring, the chewy confection, originally a bright brick red color, had turned brittle and into a dull reddish brown. That’s when my mother usually realized it was time to do a major food shopping. She always took me along and let me load up on chocolate and cookies.
With these images of quince in mind, no wonder I could hear my mother turning up her nose on the phone when I told her a few years ago that I had made delicious jelly and pies with quince that our neighbor gave us.
Perhaps quinces fell out of favor because they do not fit our fast-paced age. The majority of quince varieties cannot be eaten raw; you have to work to enjoy them. But what a wondrous experience when, after peeling the fuzzy skin, coring the hard fruit and removing all the stone cells (the gritty cells in the pulp that can also be found in pears), the cooked quince turns a beautiful salmon color and has a soft consistency that melts in your mouth without falling apart upon cooking, unlike apples. And the flavor… like the sweetest apple and pear combined yet with some unique flowery note and a little zing. Can you tell I am hooked on quince?
With a bit of luck, you can find quince today, so I felt emboldened to test a recipe for quince tart with marzipan from Baden, a region in southwestern Germany, for the new edition of my cookbook. The voting was unanimous: a clear keeper.
For my other favorite quince recipes, see here.