Quince: Another of America’s Forgotten Fruits

Originally from the Caucasus Mountain foothills of Iran and Turkey, this highly fragrant relative of the apple was once a commonplace orchard fruit in the early American Colonies. Quince was one of the first fruits introduced here by English settlers, and by 1720, their cultivation was thriving in Virginia.

50092427In the mid-nineteenth century, Reverend William W. Meech discovered an American variety of the fruit in Connecticut, which he introduced as the “Pear-Shaped Orange Quince.” In his 1888 book, Quince Culture, Reverend Meech described it as the “most uniformly prolific of all known varieties,” hence its name Meech’s Prolific. While this native variety is known for its reliable high yields and superior quality and remains popular by plant enthusiasts in England, Meech’s Prolific is now extremely rare in this country.

The delicate, yet heady fragrance of the quince is said to be reminiscent of lemon, pineapple, flowers, and apple. The claim of ancient traders was that a single ripe quince could perfume an entire caravan.

quince-jellyTraditionally the quince was used by English colonists in pies mixed with apples or pears and sweetened with honey. It was also used to make aromatic jams, jellies, and marmalades. In fact, the English word marmalade is derived from the Portuguese word “marmela,” meaning quince.

Quince are generally not eaten fresh because of the hardness of the fruit and the acidity, astringent, and sometimes grittiness of its flesh . However, when cooked they are transformed into a beautiful rosy pink color with a unique flavor and delicate peach-like texture. Quince can be used in the preparation of a variety of sweet and savory dishes from cakes and pies, to stews and chutneys, to fruit sauces as an accompaniment to chicken, beef, pork, and game. Another simple but delicious way of serving quince is to peel, core, and stuff them with raisins, nuts, and spices and bake them until tender.

quince on a treeAs American farmers moved westward, so did the quince, with sizable cultivations recorded in both Texas and California. By 1914, noted plant breeder Luther Burbank wrote that “the soil and climate of California are peculiarly hospitable to this fruit” where at the time there were about nine hundred acres of quince being grown. California remains the only state to commercially farms quinces, although the land devoted to its production has reduced to only about one-third of what it was in its heyday.

455014tqji54l2Although practically unheard of for decades, today the quince, like other once popular but neglected fruits, seems to be making somewhat of a comeback. In recent years, there have been at least three books and numerous articles containing quince recipes. The fruit has also become an increasingly featured item in a number of high-end restaurants, and at least half a dozen have even been named after it.

The quince is a seasonal fruit generally available only from early fall through January but may be found up until March in some areas. If you are fortunate enough to find them in your supermarket or green grocer, we recommend you pick up a few and rediscover the delights of this remarkably versatile but forgotten fruit.

Try Em: Quince Restaurant, Jackon Square, San Francisco, California; Quince at the Homestead, Evanston, Illinois; Quince Café and Market, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Make Em: Milopita, Poached Quince, Quince Clafoutis, Quince Tarte Tatin

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Pawpaws: America’s Forgotten Fruit

Whether you call them a custard apple, poor man’s banana, Quaker delight, or Hoosier banana, one thing is for sure, the fruit enjoyed for centuries by Native Americans is both healthy, nutritious, and very good for us. Pawpaws contain three times as much vitamin C as an apple, twice the niacin and riboflavin as an orange, and about the same potassium as a banana. They are also high in magnesium, iron, manganese, copper, and several essential amino acids. And the big bonus is they’re delicious!

The pawpaw is the largest edible tree fruit native to North America and indigenous to the temperate woodlands of the eastern United States. Thanks to the American Indian, the pawpaw spread as far west as eastern Nebraska, Kansas, and Texas; from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes.

The first documentation of the pawpaw is found in the 1541 journals of Spanish explorer, Hernando de Soto, who found Native Americans eating and cultivating them east of the Mississippi River. Later in 1787, the journal of Major Benjamin Sites, founder of Columbia, Ohio, describes he and a company of twenty-six settlers clearing a pawpaw thicket to build a blockhouse. Accounts of the Lewis and Clark Expedition make numerous mention of their fondness for, and dependency on, this native fruit. George Washington’s favorite dessert was chilled pawpaw fruit, and Thomas Jefferson cultivated them at Monticello.

The pawpaw is a yellowish-green, oblong fruit, with brown or black splotches, about six inches in length, and weighing about eight ounces. The complex flavor of its sweet, custardy, bright yellow flesh has overtones of mango, banana, and pineapple. Some with a melon-like aftertaste. It’s been said that the pawpaw is best when eaten immediately after picking since they have a shelf-life of only a few days. But the pulp can be used to prepare a number of tasty treats–from pies, breads, and custards to sauces, brandy, and beer.

Since the early 1900s, there have been fierce competitions for selecting the largest and best tasting pawpaw. The first of these contests occurred in 1917 where the winning entry out of seventy competitors received a $100 prize. The largest pawpaw ever recorded was grown in Athens, Ohio and measured eighteen inches in diameter.

Today, the Ohio’s Hill Country Heritage Area Program sponsors an annual Ohio Pawpaw Festival at scenic Lake Snowden in Albany, Ohio, featuring three fun filled days of music, food, contests, art, workshops, and other events for young and old alike.

Although there is renewed interest in their development, large-scale production of pawpaws has not been successful, because the fruit is easily bruised, highly perishable, and does not ship well. The season for pawpaw fruit is typically late August through September. If you are fortunate to be in Ohio or Kentucky (or another state in which the fruit grows) during that time of the year, you can likely find pawpaws in local farmers’ markets or you can forage your own. Others can purchase fruit or pulp online.

Buy Em: Heritage Foods, Earthy Delights, Paw Paw Fruit

Make Em: Pawpaw Bread, Pawpaw Preserves, Pawpaw Pie