"Perhaps the most impressive of all the cookbook blogs are the three devoted to the 2004 edition of Gourmet magazine's "The Gourmet Cookbook" -- all 5¼ pounds and 1,300-odd recipes of it. Befitting this culinary Everest, all three writers are overachievers in their professional lives."

--Lee Gomes, The Wall Street Journal, May 28, 2008
"I should have told you before how much I've been enjoying reading your thoughts. You seem like such a great cook."

--Ruth Reichl, Editor-in-Chief of Gourmet Magazine, June 8 2008, comment on "Chocolate Velvet Ice Cream".

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Quince, Apple and Almond Jalousie

First pomegranates and now quinces--I know, I'm the queen of seasonal cooking this week. The difference is that I got the pomegranates at the supermarket but these quinces were foraged from the yard at work.

Say what?

Well, if you're anything like me first of all you have never used a quince in cooking, or perhaps you don't even know what the heck they are. They certainly aren't clogging up the produce aisle.

But quinces have a long and venerable history, according to my research. This from Wikipedia:

Cultivation of quince may have preceded apple culture, and many references translated to "apple", such as the fruit in Song of Solomon, may have been to a quince. Among the ancient Greeks, the quince was a ritual offering at weddings, for it had come from the Levant with Aphrodite and remained sacred to her. Plutarch reports that a Greek bride would nibble a quince to perfume her kiss before entering the bridal chamber, "in order that the first greeting may not be disagreeable nor unpleasant" (Roman Questions 3.65). It was a quince that Paris awarded Aphrodite. It was for a golden quince that Atalanta paused in her race. The Romans also used quinces; the Roman cookbook of Apicius gives recipes for stewing quince with honey, and even combining them, unexpectedly, with leeks. Pliny the Elder mentioned the one variety, Mulvian quince, that could be eaten raw. Columella mentioned three, one of which, the "golden apple" that may have been the paradisal fruit in the Garden of the Hesperides, has donated its name in Italian to the tomato, pomodoro.

Feel smarter? I know I do.

So the other day when I was out cutting flowers at work, I walked by a big old bush and noticed that it was heavy with this lumpy looking yellow fruit.


We only pay attention to that big old bush in the spring, when it's full of pretty pink flowers, and we note that it's a Japanese Flowering Quince.

Now, I had to pick a few of those lumpy yellow fruits, smell them, let them hang out in the kitchen, think some more, wonder if I was going to poison anybody, pick a few more, think some more, etc. before I fully committed to using these to make the Quince, Apple and Almond Jalousie.

This was my first surprise. There's a lot of hollow space in the middle of these things.

But I sliced them and got them into a pan with some water and sugar for their 2 hour cookdown.

Here was my second surprise:

They turn red!! How cool is that?

Even just stopping right there would have made my day, because that was like a magic trick right there at the stove.

The rest of the filling was pretty straightforward--adding apples and sliced, toasted almonds.

The crust recipe had a new technique--amazing after all the ways I've produced pie crusts that there could be a technique I haven't come across. This technique calls for coarsely grating frozen butter into the flour, and people I am here to tell you that this is an unpleasant way to make pie crust because you are gripping frozen butter with one hand which is COLD!!!

But after the rest of the standard pie crust-making hooha, this is what I had:


Oh, by the way, see those slits? That's the image for which this tart is named--the French word for "Venetian blind" is "jalousie". I guess it would sound a little odd to call it a Quince, Apple and Almond Venetian Blind, although I suppose that's the way it translates in French.

Here it is, baked:

Now, I have two things to say about this tart.

1. The pie crust was heavy, and considering the awkward and unpleasant technique used to make it, I am jettisoning that idea forever more and would urge you to do likewise. If you ever make this tart, use your favorite crust-making technique, not this one.

2. Quinces are sour. Even with sugar. And it's a kind of sour that hits you at the back of the throat, which may or may not have unpleasant connotations for you. I did for me, but it didn't seem to bother anybody else who tried it, or maybe they were being polite.

A sub-note to #2 is that the quinces I used were not the quinces that are sold in stores (whatever mysterious stores sell them). According to my research, the fruit of the Japanese Flowering Quince is a cousin--still edible but only when cooked and used primarily to make liquors, marmalades and preserves, which I think tart filling pretty much counts as. So it's possible that the other quinces might have had a slightly different flavor profile. I might try it again someday if I see them around, on a tree or otherwise!


Georgia said...

I think we have the same type of quince tree. It looks like EAMS's tree produces better fruit than ours.* I love the flowers, too (localecologist.blogspot.com/2008/01/tree-walk-eating-fruits-of-city-trees.html)

* The tree belongs to our landlady.

GiselleG said...

Hi Melissa! We discovered that we have a quince tree in our new yard, and were at a loss as to what to do with them exactly. We found this recipe online for something called Membrillo, which is basically quince paste. We made the paste (very simple) and tried it with crackers & manchego cheese. It was really amazing and delicious! Try this as an appetizer. The kids even liked it just as a little "quince jam" on their crackers.

Melissa Bach Palladino said...

Hi Giselle! I've had membrillo--the local cheese purveyor in Beverly Farms sells it, and you're right--it is excellent with cheese. Never thought of making it though...thanks for the recipe link! :-)

Georgia, one of the things that I've read is that the fruit from the Japanese quince is better after frost and subsequent softening, if you're going to try to do something with that fruit...