It looks something like a pear, but if you bite into it, you'll be unpleasantly surprised by a sour, hard and astringent fruit. I'm talking about quince, a fruit that is almost always cooked before eating. They're commonly found in Italy at this time of year. It's not impossible to find them in the U.S., but when you do, you're likely to pay a lot for just one single piece, making the cost of jelly or quince paste quite high.
In Italy, they're also used to scent lingerie and linen drawers, because of the strong fragrance and durability of the fruit. On a visit to my cousin Lucia's house in the region of Emilia Romagna, she had prepared the fruit into a paste, which can be spread on bread, or enjoyed as an accompaniment to cheeses.
Here in the states, I was lucky enough recently to receive a basketful of quinces from my friend Polly, who in the past, has provided me with a jar of her delicious quince jelly. This year though, thanks to her generosity, I had enough of a stash to make it myself. It is a delicious blend of sweet and sour flavors and starts out as a pale yellow liquid, turning to a beautiful orange hue as the sugar melts and the mixture cooks and thickens.
I love it on toast with butter, but it also makes the perfect glaze on a fruit tart. Just soften it a bit in the microwave and slather over some sliced apples or pears.
In Italy, quince is frequently an ingredient in mostarda, a savory and spicy candied fruit condiment served with bollito misto (boiled meats). You can also add slices of quince to a stew, but that's a recipe for another post in the future.
Cotognata (recipe from Lucia Bersani)
printable recipe here
Slice the quinces into a bowl filled with water and the juice of one lemon to keep the quinces from discoloring while you're slicing. After they're all cut, put the quinces in a pan, with enough white wine to cover. Boil until tender, drain, then use a blender or stick blender to puree. Weigh the mixture and put the equal amount of sugar into a pan with the puree mixture. Bring it to a boil for a little longer, then spread it in a shallow pan. When the mixture is cold, cut into desired shapes.
printable recipe here
lemons (1 lemon for each quart of quince juice)
Wash the quinces, then cut the fruit into pieces, leaving the peel on, checking for worms or other bugs. You don't have to core the fruit, but if you want to, go ahead. Put the chunks of fruit into a saucepan and cover with water. Place a lid on the pot and bring to a simmer, cooking until the fruit is soft. This could take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, depending on the ripeness and size of the fruit.
Use a fine colander and strain the fruit and juice through it into a large bowl. Press down gently to extract as much juice as you can.
Strain the juice a second time, using cheesecloth or a paper coffee filter. This will help ensure a clear jelly.
Cover and refrigerate overnight and more of the particles may shift to the bottom.
Measure out the juice the next day and pour it into a large, clean pot.
For each quart of liquid, add the juice of one lemon and about 4 1/2 cups of sugar.
Place the pot on medium high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Keep cooking it and skimming any foam that rises to the surface. The color will change from yellow to a beautiful shade of pale orange. If you have a thermometer, it should reach between 215- 220 degrees.
Pour the liquid into hot sterile jars. Careful, it's really hot. Process in a hot water bath for about 10 minutes.