I made damson plum jam last weekend and was told that that's an old-lady thing to do. I aspire to being an old lady - filling my freezer with things, putting up jam, making my own pickles and sausage. It seems natural that I'm also interested in overlooked, old-fashioned, and high-maintenance fruits and vegetables. A farmer at the market on Saturday had quinces, and since I knew they were a pain in the ass AND I've never had them before, I had to buy some.
Why are they a pain in the ass? Quinces are related to apples but with some key differences. They're inedible raw - astringent, dry, and hard. Their cores are tougher, so cutting them requires leaning into the knife, and cutting the seeds out is pretty dangerous. They also oxidize faster than apples, so you have to do all that as quickly as possible. As I found out later, they are also very tasty, like the most perfumed apple you've ever had, and their texture is denser so they hold up to long cooking.
The first thing I did was to peel, core, and slice a couple pounds of them and poach them in sugar water with a bit of lemon and half a vanilla bean. I think I'd like to put the poached slices over a vanilla pastry cream filled tart or something like that. For now, they live in the refrigerator.
Now, this doesn't look like much, but it's obscenely tasty. The man I bought the quinces from told me a Persian woman had bought some earlier and said she'd cook them with lamb, so I went straight from there to Marin Sun for a chunk of lamb shoulder. I found in the - once again, exceptional - Chez Panisse Fruit book a recipe for lamb tagine with quinces. There's a lot of reasons I was afraid I wouldn't like this. It's got a fair amount of cinnamon, which I don't like, plus honey and fruit, and I don't much like sweet things (see blog title). But isn't it always the case that things that tread just to one side of the "hate" line are the things that are most sublime? People who eat with me often know I love perfumey and fragrant foods, and I just adore the flavor/fragrance of honey, the kind found in french ice cream or sauternes or tokaji, not to be confused with the american hippie brown bread with honey flavor. So this stew turns out slightly sweet but oniony-rich, and super flowery-fragrant both from the honey and from the uncircumcised quince. Peels on, that is. Perfectly complemented by a Racer 5 chaser.