What’s with the Quince?

Photo by Fadia Jawdat

Edward Lear’s nursery rhyme, The Owl and The Pussycat, is a favorite of mine. It speaks of romance between an impossible pair who elope to be married in a pea-green boat to the land “where the Bong tree grows”. They dine on “ Mince* and slices of quince” and dance “by the light of the moon”. Total nonsense, but so charmingly romantic.

Quince, to me, conveys romance and poetry: an exotic fruit saved for special occasions. It is not mass cultivated and grows mostly in the Middle East and Asia. It is an ancient fruit that has lived through many civilizations, but it remains uncommon. It is often hard to find in most American supermarkets, except during the winter holidays when people are willing to pay almost five dollars for one.

Quince has a sadness about it when raw. It is nubby, a little fuzzy and unwelcoming to the touch. It never looks perfect and its creamy flesh is woody and tough and would make your mouth pucker if you tried eating it. But when cooked, the quince is transformed: it is luscious and silky, burnt umber in color, delicate in flavor, aromatic and sweet. It is not a fruit you devour, but one you use sparingly or as a condiment. An ingredient to treat with reverence.
It is mostly used to make jam. I can still smell the fragrance of the glowing burnt-orange Sfarjal jam (Arabic name for quince), cooling in jars on the marble counters of my mother’s kitchen. Quince is also added to savory dishes of lamb or chicken from Iran and Syria, Tunisia and Morocco. Quince paste, Membrillo, from Spain, is delicious on top of cheese, and I once came across a quince-infused Vodka recipe, that I plan to try next Fall!

So that’s the story behind the name. Despite my exposure to many cuisines, middle-eastern and mediterranean are still my favorites.  Quince is only one of the many ingredients I associate with the Middle-East. There are so many others that I have idolized in my culinary memory and muse about in my writing. I hope to share them with you. Raising a family and having a full-time job, with no help and support, forced me transform many traditional recipes by taking shortcuts without compromising flavor. Sometimes it is only a matter of prepping ahead of time and being organized.  The end result looks like you have slaved away for hours. In fact, you have, but no one, including you, would even notice.

This blog is about the foods, the tips and stories about the kitchens and the people I’ve known who, through food and cooking, have transformed my life.

*(although most of you who have found your way here probably already know) Mince probably refers to mincemeat, an English filling for pies that consists of dried fruit, distilled spirits like Brandy and spices.

Author: slicesofquinceblog

Hello, Thank you for visiting my blog. My name is Fadia. Fadia, like “Nadia” but with an F as in “Food”. Food is a passion of mine, bordering on an obsession. It has kept me sane (and well-nourished) during a long and crazy career in the food business. I live in Washington, D.C. with my husband, where our two daughters were born and raised and where, they learned to spend hours in the kitchen watching, experimenting, learning, cooking and baking. Food has been the thread and fabric of my relationships with people who, like me, have researched its nourishing and healing powers and have shared their knowledge in underserved or “over-served” communities, or who simply are thrilled with the joys of cooking. I grew up in Beirut, Lebanon, in a household and a family of cooks, or should I say, in a country of fiercely competitive cooks (I will probably write about Middle-eastern cooking as adapted to the U.S. kitchen). I moved to New York in my twenties and there I began my life-long exploration of world cuisines while still perfecting the art of cooking elaborate and healthy dishes in a jiffy and on a budget. We never succumbed to frozen dinners— O.K. maybe, a frozen pizza on the occasional Friday night. This is America after all! I cook just about everyday. I have had many teachers and many mentors, and I have taught and mentored many. I am still discovering and learning. It’s a never-ending joyful process. I also cook for distraction and have cooked professionally as instructor and demonstrator. I am setting up a burgeoning business as a freelance recipe tester and developer and a food writer and photographer. (Bring on the requests! I am available for hire). In this blog I plan to share photos, recipes and stories. Most of all I would like to honor all my kitchen heroes who have and continue to inspire me. I would like it to develop into a forum of exchange between friends, a resource for tips, information and ideas. Finally, I must mention that I do not do this without a twang of shame. I‘ll mention it and move on, hoping that perhaps later, I could dedicate more time and writing to it. The dark side of food, is the lack of it, bringing on malnutrition, disease and hunger to billions around the globe and right here in our own backyards. Our culture has also contributed to devastating food disorders that are very hard to ignore. As much as food brings us joy, the lack of it brings devastation. I never forget that. I would like to think that while we relish our beautiful dishes and our gorgeous photos of elegantly plated food, we can take a moment to read a HUNGER blog or two and help the people and organizations that dedicate their lives to this universal cause. Each of us food fanatics can. Please start now, start thoughtfully . I know I shall. With gratitude. F.

2 thoughts on “What’s with the Quince?”

  1. Dear Fadia, I love your blog’s name “Slices of Quince”, because I love Quince. They are my favorite jamming fruit. As you mentioned so eloquently in your blog, the fruit is a pretty ugly one, and of little interest when raw, but as soon as it is cooked, a complete metamorphosis takes place, and it becomes sublime. I make quince jam almost every autumn, I peel the quinces, I cut them in quarters and remove the inner cores, I set aside their seeds, then I grate or shred the flesh portion of the fruit. I add sugar (about the same weight as the quince), then in a small herb bag, I place the quince seeds and a bunch of cloves, and I include that in a pot with the shredded quince and the sugar, and that is how I cook my quince jam. The cloves are an essential ingredient, my Syrian grand-mother always included cloves in her quince jam, at least that is the taste I remember. The quince seeds are rich in pectin, so they make a very good jellying ingredient. The jam cooks in a couple of hours, over low heat, with periodic stirrings. In the beginning of the quince season (September-October), the quince jam comes out blond, towards the end of the season (December) the jam comes out a nice dark amber-red, the taste is the same in both cases, but invariably, the color changes depending on when I make it. I also cook slices of quince in a sugar syrup, I refrigerate them for a day or more, then I serve them as a dessert (with optional vanilla ice-cream): they make a great dessert that is not too unhealthy. Please do share any quince recipes you have, and thanks in advance.

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