The fruit belongs to the Rosacea (rose) family which also includes apples, pears, and almonds. Quinces originated in current-day Iran, and then spread throughout the Mediterranean. More than 15 varieties are grown commercially in Australia including Pineapple, Missouri Mammoth, Smyrna, Portugal, Champion, Rea’s Mammoth, Fullers, Van Deman, and Orange (Apple quince).
Quinces need to be cooked to turn the rock-hard yellow fruit into soft crimson red flesh that can be used in a variety of ways. They are high in pectin and are fantastic for making jam, jelly and quince paste. Before cooking, lightly wash and gently rub away the surface fuzz. Peel, quarter and core fruit and keep in lemon and water to stop them discoloring with air (avoid quince fruit with too many creases; they are a real challenge to peel!). Poach the segments gently for many hours until the flesh changes into a deep ruby colour with an intense, aromatic flavour. Extended cooking will eventually result in the formation of quince paste. Eight quinces are enough to make an impressive batch of quince paste.
The prepared and cooked fruit is very adaptable and can be used in all manner of desserts including pies, crumbles, puddings, and tarts. Use as you would stewed apple and as a paste it is fabulous as an accompaniment to cheese. Quince is also an important ingredient in Middle Eastern braises and stews where it aids in thickening and adds richness to the dish. Fresh quinces can be found at the Market and several stallholders also make their own quince paste.
Interesting note: The original Portuguese name for quince is ‘marmelo’, which is how marmalade came into the English language.