Quince, The Impossible Fruit

a basketful of quince pears
quince pears, the appalling fruit

Today Granma Ortolani came back from the countryside with this basket. These funny things are known as quince pears.

Quince pears and quince apples are quite possibly the most appalling fruit on this part of Earth, one that raises many a doubt on the sanity of the Great Architect, or at least on its seriously bent sense of humour. Here’s why:

  1. the fruit is ugly: quinces are the Hunchback of Notre Dame of fruitdom
  2. they fall to the ground before being fully ripe, and must be left to ripen for a couple weeks
  3. they taste horrible, too: think unripe artichoke plus vynilic glue
  4. they are difficult to peel, very hard to cut and almost impossible to chew, with a tenacity one would be hard-pressed to find in construction-grade cardboard
  5. and anyway, they are near to tasteless.

But, one should never estimate the ingenuity of poor people. This is the land of acorn flour, after all. And we found that even quinces can be useful, after all.

  • you can put them in a gauze sachet and use them inside blanket drawers, in the closet, or on the table they will last an entire season as ambient perfume
  • quinces are extremely rich in amid, so adding one or two to other fruit will cut down marmalade-cooking time allowing clearer, tastier marmalade especially from water-rich fruit such as berries
  • and, lo and behold, quinces can be even made into marmalade! Sold under the name cotognata in Italy and membrillo in Spain, cotognata is an extremely thick fruit paste, giving its best with aged pecorino cheese, or simply eaten by the slice as a snack by kids.

There are a few commercially available cotognata versions:

  • a slightly softer, spreadable (with some effort) version sold in jars, good for breakfast
  • a firmer version sold by the slice in street markets, ideal for a pecorino chees dinner
  • a portion version intended as a snack, which was very much the fashion when I was a kid but somehow still survives in supermarkets.

All this to say that next week I’ll come up with a cotognata recipe, so stay tuned!

5 comments

  1. I love membrillo – i make my own form quinces supplied from a friend’s orchard. Great with cheeses like manchego – good with chicken too! And yes, isn’t the perfume fabulous!

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