Part of the Rosacea (rose) family, which also includes apples, pears, and almonds, quince trees originated in current-day Iran, and then spread throughout the Mediterranean. More than 15 varieties are now grown commercially in Australia.
The fruit turns yellow at maturity and is most often used in jams, jellies and cooked dishes; they’re rarely eaten raw. Harvesting the fruit at full maturity ensures the best flavour, although they can continue to ripen off the tree.
The yellow colour and strong sweet fragrance are the best indicators of ripeness – ripe quinces may still feel hard at harvest. The fruit is also easily picked off the tree once mature, so if the fruit begin to fall on their own, they are ripe and possibly approaching over-ripeness.
Quinces soften during storage and can bruise easily, so they should be stored in a single layer in a container placed in a cool, dark place for up to a month.
When cooked, the quince’s hard yellow flesh turns to a soft crimson colour. The prepared and cooked fruit can be used in all manner of desserts including pies, crumbles, puddings, and tarts. As a paste it is a fabulous accompaniment to cheese. Quince is also an important ingredient in Middle Eastern braises and stews where it aids in thickening and adds richness to the dish.
You can find quinces at Adelaide Showground Farmers’ Market at McLaren Vale Orchards, Ashbourne Valley Orchards and The Food Forest stalls. The Showground Farmers’ Market runs on Sundays from 9am to 1pm at the Adelaide Showground, Leader Street, Wayville.
McLaren Vale Orchards and Ashbourne Valley Orchards also have quinces at their stalls at the Willunga Farmers’ Market this week. Willunga Farmers’ Market is open on Saturday from 8am to 12.30pm.
Also on Saturday mornings is the Gawler Farmers’ Market, where The Food Forest attends fortnightly to sell a range of organically certificated nuts, vegetables and fruit including quinces. Gawler Farmers’ Market is open on Saturdays from 8am to noon at the Gawler Visitor Information Centre, 2 Lyndoch Road, Gawler.
Lyndall Vandenberg, the new marketing and communications coordinator for the Willunga Farmers’ Market, says you can poach quinces to make a simple dessert to serve with cream or ice cream: “Place in a heavy-based saucepan 1 litre of water, 1 cup of sugar, 1 vanilla bean, 3 cloves and half a lemon and bring to a boil. Add 4 peeled and quartered quinces, reduce to a simmer and cook for about 1½ hours or until the quinces have softened and turned red. Serve with a little of the warm syrup from the saucepan.”
Vandenberg has also shared a recipe for a Middle Eastern lamb dish featuring quinces.
“The following recipe is based on a Persian dish and the result is an aromatic, fruit-sweet and sharp stew,” she says. “Plan this half a day ahead to allow quinces to cook or you can substitute the quinces with hard pears (omit the sugar). Serve with plain rice or with saffron rice with cranberries, pistachio and mixed herbs.”
Spiced Lamb Kofta with Quinces
For the quinces
1 cinnamon stick
1 small piece from a whole nutmeg
1 tbsp honey
Peel quinces, then cut into quarters and remove cores. Set peel and core aside. Place flesh in a heavy-based pot with the spices and honey. Cover with baking paper.
Place skin and cores on top of baking paper and pour in enough water to just cover skins and cores. Cover pot with a tight-fitting lid and place on stove. Bring to boil then turn heat down to very low.
Cook for 3 to 4 hours or until liquid is reduced to about one cup and quinces are pink. Discard paper and cores/peels. Remove quinces from their liquid and set aside. Retain liquid for later use.
For the kofta
500g minced lamb
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 red chilli, de-seeded and chopped
½ cup coriander (leaves, roots and stems chopped) plus extra for serving
2 tbsp breadcrumbs
2 tbsp freshly grated ginger
2 medium red onions, finely chopped
1 tsp allspice
1 egg, lightly beaten
8 cardamom pods
2 tsp pomegranate molasses
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 cup quince liquid (retained from quince cooking, see above)
1 cup water
1 tbsp brown sugar
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt, plus extra
pinch freshly ground black pepper
Place lamb in a mixing bowl along with the garlic, chilli, coriander, breadcrumbs, allspice, half of the ginger, half of the onion, egg, salt and pepper. Mix well with your hands and set aside.
Heat olive oil in a large frying pan for which you have a lid. Pour a small amount of olive oil into the pan so you have a thin layer. Shape the mince into meatballs and cook in batches until lightly browned. Place on paper towel and set aside.
Add the remaining onions to the pan. Cook for a few minutes or until softened. Next, add remaining ginger and cardamom pods and cook for five minutes or until the onion is very soft and spices are aromatic. Add pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, sugar, quince liquid, water and a good pinch of salt and pepper.
Gently slip the meatballs and quince pieces into the sauce. Cover with the lid and simmer for about 30 minutes. The sauce should be thick. Serve warm, sprinkled with coriander and pomegranate seeds.
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