The quince is the sole member of the genus Cydonia in the family Rosaceae which also contains apples and pears, among other fruits. It is a deciduous tree that bears a pome fruit, similar in appearance to a pear, and bright golden-yellow when mature. Throughout history the cooked fruit has been used as food, but the tree is also grown for its attractive pale pink blossoms and other ornamental qualities.
The fruit was known to the Akkadians, who called it supurgillu; al safarjal “quinces”, as well as in Judea of Israel during the Mishnaic era where it was called “Perishin”. Quince flourished in the heat of the Mesopotamian plain, where apples did not.
It was cultivated from an archaic period around the Mediterranean. The Greeks associated it with Cydonia on Crete, as the “Cydonian pome”, and Theophrastus, in his Enquiry into Plants, noted that quince was one of many fruiting plants that do not come true from seed.
As a sacred emblem of Aphrodite, a quince figured in a lost poem of Callimachus that survives in a prose epitome: seeing his beloved in the courtyard of the temple of Aphrodite, Acontius plucks a quince from the “orchard of Aphrodite”, inscribes its skin and furtively rolls it at the feet of her illiterate nurse, whose curiosity aroused, hands it to the girl to read aloud, and the girl finds herself saying “I swear by Aphrodite that I will marry Acontius”. A vow thus spoken in the goddess’s temenos cannot be broken.
Pliny the Elder mentions “numerous varieties” of quince in his Natural History and describes four. The season of ripe quinces is brief: the Roman cookbook De re coquinaria of “Apicius” specifies in attempting to keep quinces, to select perfect unbruised fruits and keep stems and leaves intact, submerged in honey and reduced wine. The term “marmalade”, originally meaning a quince jam, derives from marmelo, the Portuguese word for this fruit.
Khoresh-e Beh, a Persian stew
We will not be revisting the Roman cookbook, rather we suggest you to indulge your culinaria urge with a Persian quince stew Khoresh-e Beh, courtesy of the TuRmeric and Saffron.
Ingredients serving 4 to 6 guests
2 pounds meat (lamb or beef), washed and cubed
4 medium-size quince, washed, cored and sliced (could be cubed too), slice right before cooking.
1 cup yellow split peas, picked over and rinsed
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon liquid saffron
Salt and pepper to taste
2 to 3 dried lemons (limu amani) or juice of a lime
2 tablespoons sugar
A dash of cinnamon
2 cups of water
Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add chopped onion and cook until golden brown, add turmeric powder and stir.
Place the meat in the pot and brown on all sides. Add the tomato paste and cook for five minutes. Stir. Add the peas to the pot and give it a gentle stir, cook for 3 to 5 minutes. Add cinnamon, saffron, dried lemons salt and pepper. Pour water in the pot, bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover and cook on a medium to low heat for an hour. Heat 2 to 3 tablespoons of oil in a skillet and cook the slices of quince for 7 to10 minutes over medium heat. Sprinkle sugar over quince slices and stir well till sugar is completely dissolved. Set aside. In an ovenproof casserole dish, pour in the meat mixture, adjust the seasoning and gently layer the cooked quince slices on top. Cook in the 350 degrees Fahrenheit preheated oven for 50 minutes. Server with Basmati rice.
Quince Preserve, Mrabba al-safarjal
Quinces are aromatic, delicious especially when cooked as a jam. The Assyrian and the Greek mythology associated quinces with love, marriage and fertility. Quinces were often centre-pieces of table decorations for the kings and queens along-side pomegranates.
Now-a-days Quince jams, pastes and preserve are much praised by the Lebanese in their cuisine. Here is a recipe you might like to recreate.
1kg quinces, unpeeled, washed, cubed
550 g sugar
2,5 tablespoons of lemon juice
600 ml water
Place the cleaned and cube quines in a pan filled with 600 ml water.
Boil it over high heat. Then the heat should be reduced to medium, cover and simmer the quinces for 10 to 15 minutes. Add sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves. Bring the mixture to boil. Add lemon juice and keep stiring. Let the pan simmer for 60 minutes on lowest heat. After an hour turn the heat to a medium in order to boil the mixtures. Divide the mixture into sterilised jars. Cool, seal and process for 30 minutes in boiling water. Cool and store the jars. Enjoy the jams throughout winter with self-made bread, cheese and other savory dishes.