Have you ever eaten quince? Until very recently, I hadn’t. I had a vague notion of a quince as some sort of large fig that went into holiday pies . . . . but that was more a conflation of “quince” and “mince” than anything else. It turns out that quince is a staple of cheese platters – the local natural foods store sells blocks of quince paste in little plastic containers alongside the Stilton and Camembert – and is indeed used in pies, though not necessarily for the holidays. I got my first taste of quince from a friend who has her own quince tree and gave me a tiny can of the paste she’d made. (Appropriately, very thick quince paste is called “quince cheese.”) The fruit, which turns up in stores starting in October, looks like an acne-prone pear. It’s lumpy, bright yellow, and hard as a rock; this is not something you can eat raw, and for that reason, it’s something of a forgotten delicacy in the U.S. When cooked, the fruit softens and its acidic flavor mellows into something sweeter. It’s known for turning a rosy pink color when poached, when the tannins in its flesh release a red pigment called anthocyanin. (Fine Cooking helpfully explains the chemistry of quince, which sounds a bit like trees changing colors, here. FYI, cooking the quince in an aluminum pot, which reacts to tannic acid, deepens the pink color. Good to know, since my quince – ooh, a rhyme! – only turned a pale peach.)
I’m not big on cheese platters, so what was I planning to do with the quince? Bread. There were some gorgeous recipes for tarts and pies online – upside-down quince and honey spice cake – but I wanted something that I could bring to Kathie, the friend who introduced me to quince, for Christmas. So quick bread it was. Try to find a quince quick bread recipe, however, and even Google comes up empty-handed. (Well, almost empty-handed. Weirdcombinations.com does have a recipe for an almond-quince cake.) Since I was going to be poaching and mashing the quince into a paste anyway, I decided that tweaking a recipe for applesauce bread – of which the Internet has plenty – was the way to go.
Did it turn out? Yes and no. My mother thought it tasted “funny,” but Kathie liked it. And since that was the point, and because quince is supposedly something of an acquired taste, I called this recipe a success. The only thing that would have made it better would have been electric pink quince, which might have yielded pale pink bread. I’ve never been a fan of oddly colored breads or cakes – what exactly does that tablespoon of red food coloring add to red velvet cake except a fake-y element? – but this could have been an exception. Maybe next time.