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Making the most of quince

(article, Deborah Madison)

Here's why it doesn’t always work to cook only from a recipe: Cooking is often about looking at what you’ve got and going from there. There are processes you’d never start if they were written down, but that would be at the cost of overlooking some culinary treasures. The fall's quince provided a great example.

One of the many ways I like to use quince — and my one tree yields a lot of fruit — is to make an apple-quince sauce, which is infinitely better than plain applesauce. I fill my pressure cooker half full with apples, then top it off with quince, cutting everything into big chunks or quarters and leaving the seeds and skins. In go two cups of water, and then I bring the pressure to high for 15 minutes and let it fall slowly. 

[%image quince float=right width=300 caption="Start with a quince, and end with sauce and syrup."]

When I remove the lid, there's always a quantity of beautiful pink juice floating on top (the quince are responsible for this), which I pour off — as it would make the sauce too thin — before running the fruit through a food mill. Usually I get about a quart of juice.

What to do with this treasure? First of all, it’s quite delicious to drink by itself, and it’s good stirred into a glass of fizzy water. I recently had a cocktail at Amavi in Santa Fe, which was Hendrick’s gin with quince syrup and lemon — lovely. So you can use it for drinks, alcoholic ones or not. 

With all its pectin, this viscous liquid also soothes a sore throat, which makes it a good thing to keep on hand during cold and sore-throat season.

You can also use it as a poaching liquid in place of water for winter compotes of dried fruits or slices of quince and pear, thus intensifying the color and the flavor of the compote. Sometimes I use it in my next batch of apple-quince sauce in place of water to do the same thing: bring out the flavor of the quince.

But if you want an actual product rather than a background ingredient, you might simmer the juice until it’s thick and syrupy. Add sugar if you like — I throw in a handful for about six cups of juice, which isn’t much. I find that there’s enough residual sweetness from the fruit that little, if any, sweetener is needed, but this depends on your sweet tooth, so taste.

In the end, you should have a gorgeous rosy syrup that you can use to sweeten and flavor drinks (only now with more intensity) or spoon over desserts, such as quince and apple tarts, panna cottas, and custards. Or drizzle it over something as simple as a dish of delicate ricotta, ice cream, or creamy yogurt. 

This is a great resource for the winter cook and it will keep quite nicely in a clean jar, tucked in the refrigerator. Or if you’re really generous, you can give it away to your friends as a holiday gift.

p(bio). Deborah Madison is the author of numerous award-winning cookbooks, including Local Flavors. She lives in New Mexico.

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