My car smelled.
Normally when I use the word smell, it has a negative connotation, but this time it was an unbelievable, heavenly aroma. I was intoxicated, and a visit to Thistledown Farm was the cause. Tucked in a big wooden bin near the apples and pears were lovely and ugly quince.
While living in Portland, I had discovered that one of the old gnarly trees in the used-to-be orchard in our backyard was a quince tree. It was always covered with tons of fruit that looked like squished dreadful pears; full of divots and dark spots and definitely not uniform and pretty. And to boot, they never seemed to get ripe like the two other pear trees growing nearby.
I knew about quince and quince jelly, loved quince paste smeared on a cracker with a slice of bleu cheese, but had never encountered the on-the-tree product. There it was; valuable plunder of poet’s dreams, hanging on the tree in my yard.
Quince are from the same family as apples and pears – pome, which explains the weird not-quite-pear-looking appearance. Unlike their cousins that you can pick and eat out-of-hand, quince stay hard and have a very high tannin level. To avoid the astringent pucker, they need to be cooked.
My method of choice has been to poach the fruit in simple syrup infused with vanilla bean. The quince can be eaten as is or I topped them with Greek yogurt and honey with a sprinkle of cinnamon. Talk about a nice fall dessert that imbues the flavors we crave, but in a refreshing way.
The other night I was making a pork stew with cranberries and oranges (thank you, Cooking Light.) Now, I’ll often put apples with pork, so I had this crazy idea to toss in some quince. All I can say is yum! They were a great companion to the other fruit and the kick of chile paste.
Orange-Cranberry Pork Stew with Quince
(Adapted from Cooking Light, December 2012)
You will need
2 medium oranges
1 ½ teaspoons dark sesame oil
1 pound boneless pork shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 onion, coarsely chopped
5 garlic cloves, chopped
2 cups unsalted chicken stock
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons lower-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 teaspoons sambal oelek (ground fresh chile paste)
1 cup fresh cranberries
2 cups quince, coarsely chopped
4 cups hot cooked long-grain white rice
2 tablespoons diagonally sliced green onions
What you do
Peel and section oranges over a bowl; squeeze membranes to extract juice. Set sections aside; reserve juice.
Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Sprinkle pork evenly with salt. Add pork to pan; sauté 5 minutes, turning to brown on all sides.
Add chopped onion to pan; sauté 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in orange sections, orange juice, stock, and next six ingredients (through quince). Cover; simmer on low heat for 1 ½ hours, or until pork is fork tender.
Place 1 cup rice in each of 4 bowls; top each serving with about 3/4 cup pork mixture. Sprinkle each serving with 1 1/2 teaspoons green onions.
…and my kitchen still has the mind-blowing fragrance since three quince are still sitting on the counter.