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October 24, 2012

Quince: Floral fruit can be found wild in Folly Cove

Quince are a fruit that most people on this side of the Atlantic at best consider old-fashioned, at worst don’t notice at all. They are loved by the French, mostly for jam and tarte tatin, but I just learned that quince were once equally adored in my own neighborhood, Folly Cove, which straddles the Gloucester-Rockport line.

This recipe, discovered in an old Lanesville Cookbook on loan to me from Dona Shea, is certainly a local woman’s simple version of what to do with the heavenly scented yellow fruits growing in her backyard. Having made my share of quince tarte tatin, I think this Folly Cove version — with meringue-like levity -— is the very best stage for the singular honey and jasmine fragrance of quince.

Unsolicited, quince have been working their way into my life for years.

My mother planted her first quince tree years ago; I was 20-something and not interested one bit in the seedling fruit tree with a short, cute name. I didn’t know what a quince was, and didn’t care. I was 20-something, and much more interested in the history of modern art.

My mother planted more quince trees. Jars of quince jam started appearing on her table, which I understood better than the trees themselves. It confused me that a quince was not a fruit I could snatch off a branch — it’s only edible when cooked — and munch on while reading poetry. Mom, I’ll take your pears, thank you.

I got married, moved to Rockport, had my children. My mother gave me a quince tree for my birthday one year. By then I understood quince better, how a bowl of them on the table made a room smell ambrosial.

My mother’s trees in the meantime had grown into wrangly sculptures often bent with heavy harvest. I decorated my children’s school on Grandparents’ Day with bushels of my mother’s quince. My mother sent me a second seedling, and my trees, while not as prolific as hers, bore some healthy crops, just enough to fill the air in my kitchen with a floral cloud.

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