Have you ever taken a bite out of a quince? You'd remember if you did.
Like olives, quince is not edible when first picked. It looks like a yellow pear and smells deliriously sweet, but the fruit inside is a tongue-puckering nightmare that instantly sucks up every last trace of saliva.
Cooked quince, however, has been savored throughout Asia and the Mediterranean region for more than 4,000 years. Armenians have a particular fondness for quince that's candied, jellied or cooked in stew to lend its sweetness to meat.
It's a treat that most Americans will never taste, as quince isn't stocked in most grocery stores here. Case in point: I went to my local supermarket and asked the produce manager where I could find the quince. He thought for a moment, walked with me to a display, and handed me a persimmon! Not even close! I suggested he research his produce some more. You really have to search for it, and most people don't know enough to bother.
Doug remembers his father's delight at discovering a quince tree in a friendly neighbor's yard. The neighbor had no use for the fruit, so bushels of it were cheerfully passed over the fence to find their way into pot after pot on his Mom's stove.
The Romans used the fruit and flowers of the quince for perfume and honey. The quince symbolized love, and was given as a sign of commitment to that special person.
It has a yellowish skin and hard, off-white interior. Its peak season is October to December. Because quince is high in pectin, it’s great as jelly, jam or preserves. Peel it before using it in any sweet or savory dish, and never-ever try to eat it raw!
Here’s a recipe from The Assyrian Cookbook, created by the women of the Assyrian Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary, Paramus, N.J.
NOTE: Because we haven't been able to find any quince this season, this recipe has not been tested in The Armenian Kitchen - yet.
HYVAH - Quince and Lamb Stew
Yield: 4 to 5 servings
2 lbs. lamb, trimmed and cubed
3 lbs. quince, peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces
4 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
½ tsp salt
1. Cover lamb with water. Bring to a boil, removing foam as it rises to surface.
2. Cover and cook until tender, about 1 hour.
3. Brown quince in butter.
4. Add quince and remaining ingredients to meat. Cover and simmer until tender.