A Quest For The Perfect Quince Paste Yields A Great Sauce

Nov 14, 2013
Originally published on November 15, 2013 11:03 am

A good quince can be hard to find. And for many, they're also hard to define.

Tammy Donroe Inman, who wrote the dessert cookbook Wintersweet and blogs at Food on the Food, says the tough yellow fruits are rock hard straight off the bush, and have a strong fragrance when raw – kind of like a green apple Jolly Rancher.

"But when you cook them, the flavor is different," says . "It's more like a cross between an apple and a pear, with a little hint of an exotic flower fragrance."

Inman first fell in love with the fruit when she received a half-eaten jar of quince paste that was otherwise headed for the trash.

"It was tart and sweet at the same time and so deeply flavored, and I loved it," Inman says. "And I realized as I was finishing the jar that I had no way to get any more of it."

That castoff confection started Inman on a journey to recreate the perfect quince paste.

The label on the jar didn't have a name, but did have an address. So she wrote a card professing her love of the paste and asking for a recipe.

The response came from a Latvian man who'd made the paste from quinces he'd grown in his yard. Not having that option, Inman instead went to the store and bought some pineapple quinces.

But when Inman whipped up her first batch of quince paste, it just wasn't right. She tweaked the recipe, cut the sugar and still struck out.

Her kids loved the sauce she'd made while trying to troubleshoot the recipe – "It tasted like a really exotic version of applesauce," Inman says – but it just wasn't the same as the half-eaten jar of quince paste she'd fallen for.

It took a year before she figured out that the problem with her quince paste was a varietal one: The man who made the paste grew a Japanese variety of quince different than the pineapple quinces she'd been working with.

Once she got her hands on those special quinces, it was perfect.

So after trying to replicate that tart and sweet quince paste, Inman not only succeeded, but created a different quince sauce of her own that's good enough to eat straight out of the jar.

Quinces can be difficult to find, especially that special Japanese variety. Some specialty grocers carry them, or you can order them online. If you've got good leads on a quince dealer, tell us in the comments section below.

Quince Paste

This thick, spreadable, super-tart jam is great paired with Manchego or a mild, firm local cheese. For best results, use Japanese flowering quince varieties like Toyo Nishiki or Victory.

4 pounds Japanese quince

6.5 pounds granulated sugar (yes, pounds!)

4 cups water

Wash and quarter the quinces. Add the sugar and water to a large stainless steel pot, and stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the quinces and bring the mixture to a boil. Simmer for 1 hour to 1.5 hours until the quince is tender, the color has changed to a jewel-like red, and the liquid is syrupy. If the mixture turns thick and syrupy before the quince is tender and red, add more water and continue cooking. Remove the pot from the heat and let it cool slightly.

Either run the mixture through a food mill, or use a stick blender to puree the mixture and then pass it through a sieve to remove the seeds, cores, and skins. The resulting paste will thicken as it cools. Quince paste can be safely stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks, but given the amount this recipe makes, consider canning it for longer-term storage. To can quince paste, ladle the hot mixture into sterilized jars, screw on the lids and bands until finger-tight, and process in a boiling-water canner for 10 minutes. For complete instructions on canning, visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation: http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/publications_usda.html

Recipe adapted from Michael Mirman.

Quince Sauce

A great snack, you may find this sauce to be even better than applesauce. Quince varieties are variable in flavor and moisture content: adjust the water and sugar to your taste. Eat plain or warmed and poured over vanilla ice cream.

Makes about 1 pint (475 ml)

3 pounds (1.4 kg) pineapple quince

1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

Wash the quince in cold running water to remove the white fuzz. Place the quince in a large pot with enough water to cover. The fruits will float initially, but they'll sink as they cook.

Bring the water to a boil over high heat, and then reduce the heat to medium to maintain a simmer. Cook the quince until the outer flesh can be easily pierced with a fork, 30 to 40 minutes but times may vary (the cores will remain woody and tough). Remove the fruits with tongs and set them aside until they are cool enough to handle. Reserve the cooking water.

Peel the quince with a paring knife. Cut the quince into quarters, and cut away and discard the tough inner core that contains the seeds. Place the tender fruit into the bowl of a food processor or blender with 1/2 cup (125 ml) of the reserved cooking water. Process into a sauce on the rough side for applesauce, smoother for an ice cream topping. You should have a scant 3 cups (710 ml) of pulp. (At this point, you can store it covered in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days before finishing the process.)

Add the quince to a medium nonreactive pot with 8 cups (2 L) of the reserved cooking water (supplement with tap water if needed) and the sugar, lemon juice, nutmeg, cardamom, and ginger. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, and then reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 1 1/2 hours. It's done when it is pinkish and the consistency of thick, smooth applesauce. Store the quince sauce in mason jars in the refrigerator for several weeks.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.



Today's Found Recipe involves quinces. Quinces? Yes, that sounds like something the Queen of Hearts would eat.

TAMMY DONROE INMAN: Quinces are a fruit that are related to the pear. They can't be eaten raw. They're actually very fragrant. One of my friends says it reminds her of Green Apple Jolly Ranchers.


CORNISH: And these seasonal yellow fruits smell so good that people often use them as air fresheners. Pop them in a bowl and, voila, the scent of Green Apple Jolly Rancher candy throughout your entire house.

INMAN: But when you cook them, the flavor is different. It's more like a cross between an apple and a pear, with a little hint of that exotic flower fragrance.

CORNISH: That's Tammy Donroe Inman, author of the dessert cookbook "Wintersweet." She first tried quinces in Spain as a sweet, spreadable paste. Back in Boston, years later, she came across quince paste again. This time, she became a little obsessed.

INMAN: When I was at a friend's house, she was going on a sabbatical for six months and she was emptying out her refrigerator of all her perishable items. And one of the things that she gave me - besides the turkey carcass - was a half eaten jar of quince paste. And it was nothing like what I'd had in Spain. It was tart and sweet at the same time and so deeply flavored. I loved it. And I realized, as I was finishing the jar, that I had no way to get any more of it.


INMAN: I looked closely at the jar and there was a paper label. It didn't have a name but it had a physical street address listed. So I thought about driving over there but maybe that would be weird to just show up on somebody's doorstep. Instead, I wrote a nice handwritten card: Dear Quince Lady, my friend gave me a jar of your quince paste and it was the best thing I've ever had. I would love to learn how to make this. What can you tell me about this recipe?


INMAN: A few days later, I got a long email from a Latvian man was saying that he was the one who had made the quince paste and that he would be happy to share his recipe with me. As soon as I could, I went off to the market, got myself some pineapple quince and set to work making this amazing quince paste and it was not the same.

It was very good. It tasted from quinces like a really exotic version of apple sauce but it wasn't tart. So I reduced the sugar and I made it again. And it was a little more tart but it still, it was not the same and I made it again. Meanwhile, my two sons were lapping up this quince sauce like it was the best thing they had ever had.


INMAN: Fast forward a year later, my friend worked with the Quince Lady, the Latvian man. He had extra quince left over from his quince bushes that he grew on his property. So I wrote her back, I'm like, you have to get the quince from him, please. And it turns out, indeed, he does grow a special variety of quince bush, a Japanese ornamental variety that was different from what you can get at the markets.


INMAN: I know that not everyone will have access to that special ornamental Japanese variety of quince. But I don't want people to pass on this really interesting fruit. So the quince sauce recipe that I developed while trying to make the quince paste is what I'd like to share with you today.


INMAN: This is the sauce that my kids absolutely loved and it will work with any type of quince.


INMAN: Your raw quinces will hard as rock. Throw them into a pot and cover them with water. Bring it to boil and cook them for about 30 to 40 minutes. You throw them into the food processor or a blender with a little water. And you whiz them until they're a sauce-like consistency.


INMAN: Add your sugar, some lemon juice, cardamom, nutmeg and ginger. Cook them, simmering for about an hour and a half and then you're ready to go.


INMAN: The quince sauce is like a really rich, fragrant applesauce. I like to eat it just spooned out of a jar or in a bowl but it's also really good over cold vanilla ice cream.


CORNISH: You can get Tammy Donroe Inman's full recipe for quince sauce on our Found Recipes page at NPR.org. As for the quinces, they are elusive. You can mail order them or find them at a specialty grocery store this time of year. And once you've found them they'll keep in the refrigerator for months. Happy hunting. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.