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.
I lost my mother last winter, and suddenly her quince trees became a symbol for my sadness. Friends who knew her offered gifts of quince. A painting of quince, a bouquet of quince branches, cards referencing quince, all these gave me something my sadness could touch. Friends even joined together and gave me a seedling quince for my new house, as I had moved to Folly Cove, and left the first two trees a mile away in my former yard.
This past week, my mother’s house sold, and I went over to harvest the last baskets of quince. “All these years,” I thought, reaching for another fruit, “and I still don’t really know what to do with these things except make jam or tarte tatin.”
Just the next day, I found this recipe for quince pudding. At the bottom of the page is this note: “Quince trees used to grow wild at Folly Cove, according to the old-timers who cooked them.”
Today on my morning run, I eyed a small yellow fruit stuck in a scraggly shrub, a bush I’d been running by every day for a long time. I’d seen the fruit before, thinking it some kind of wild apple. This time I stopped, picked one and smelled. The perfume was like nothing else; it had to be wild quince.
Blubber Hollow Quince Pudding
(Folly Cove, supposedly an easy place to land whales years ago, was once known as Blubber Hollow.)
11/2 cups sugar, divided
1/4 cup lemon juice
5 egg yolks
1 cup cream
3 egg whites, beaten stiff
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wash quinces and cut in quarters. Remove seeds, and chop. Toss in lemon juice to prevent from browning.
Put chopped quince in a medium saucepan with 1/2 cup sugar. Bring to a simmer and cook for five minutes, or until tender. Allow to cool a bit.
In a mixer, beat yolks of eggs. Add sugar and cream. When well blended, fold in stiffly beaten egg whites, and the quince.
Pour into buttered pudding dish, and bake in a moderate oven until firm.
Gloucester resident Heather Atwood writes the Food for Thought weekly. Questions and comments may be directed to email@example.com. Follow her blog at HeatherAtwood.com.