Imagine everyone on your street using their land, however big or small, to grow food, whether perennial or annual, and using the food to feed each other? “Food miles”, a term which refers to the distance food is transported from the time of its production until it reaches the consumer, would be whittled down to “food feet.” One of the hopes of our micro-farm was to set up a model of growing to encourage others to follow our example, no matter how small their growing space or how much growing experience they had. Our neighbors, Bob and Enid, who we met at various functions promoting the sustainable food movement, recently gave us 5 lbs of quince fruit from their tree. We happily gave Bob and Enid a share of our abundant kale and end of season tomatoes.
We are in the process of planning and planting various perennial trees and shrubs to provide us with fruit, berries and nuts on the section of our property we fondly refer to as our future edible forest garden. Many of these will take years to grow and produce and we were thankful for a local supply of fruit - one we had not really cooked with before. We had purchased and eaten quince paste, also known as Membrillo, a few years ago, which we served with a plate of pungent cheese. We found the quince paste to be an outstanding sweet accompaniment.
The quince fruit is highly fragrant and smells of apples and pears with the presence of floral notes as well. When I first took notice of it, I immediately wanted to eat it raw. Well, it was inedible. Quince is usually not enjoyed fresh because it is highly tart and astringent. It needs to be cooked. The fruit is typically harvested in the fall and a mature tree can yield 75 lbs of fruit. Though the country of Turkey ranks highest in the production of quince fruit, it is a pretty hardy tree and can be grown in zones 5-9 in this country. According to Lee Reich, the Hudson Valley guru of edible landscaping, in the spring “branches are festooned with large white or pinkish blossoms, each resembling a “single” rose blossom...in the late summer and autumn, the show is quite dramatic from the large yellow fruits, which can be left dangling on the stems for many weeks.”
Quince is a relatively compact tree growing rarely more than 10 feet high and two-thirds that width. It can have multiple trunks but if you train it to have one trunk, it can take on a gnarled, twisted and picturesque appearance. The best example can be seen in NYC at The Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park where four famous quince trees grow at the periphery of four beds that make up the Bonnefont Cloisters Herb Garden containing over 250 species of medieval medicinal herbs.
Plant quince trees in full sun and well drained soil. Decide whether you want to have it grown as a shrub or with 1 to 3 trunks during its first growing season and prune accordingly. If you are in the Hudson Valley, Micosta Nursery in Hudson, New York sells 6 different varieties. You need only one tree as quince is self-fruitful. Raintree nursery is also a good source for the west coast.
RECIPE: QUINCE PASTE
Quince paste is a wonderful homemade gift for your foodie friends and family. It is time consuming and should be given to those who appreciate the effort. Since it stores well in the refrigerator for up to 3 months, it’s a great idea to make several batches to eat through the winter months and to give out as holiday gifts. When cooking, enjoy the aromas of banana, flowers, apples and almonds that waft from the stove. The essential tools to make this recipe are a food mill, food processor, rubber spatula, wax paper and a 9x12 roasting pan.
4-5 lbs of quince, scrubbed clean
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line pan with wax paper
Place whole quince in pan, cover with foil and bake for 2 hours. When quince is cool enough to handle, remove as much of the flesh as possible into a large food processor taking care not to put in seeds, core or any hardened, brown areas. This is the time consuming and messy part.
Add enough water, 1/4 cup at a time to make a puree the consistency of a thin pudding. Use the smallest disk on your food mill and process the entire batch.
Measure out how much puree you’ve made and multiple by 2/3. Measure out that amount of sugar. Put puree in a heavy saucepan on med-low heat and add sugar. For example, I made 6 cups of puree and added 4 cups of sugar. Stir constantly for 25 minutes. Puree will darken in color. Be careful not to burn your puree.
Pour into your wax-lined pan, cool then cover with plastic and chill overnight. With a knife and spatula section off slices of your paste. It should have a jelly and gum drop consistence. Wrap in wax paper store and plastic and store in an airtight contained in the refrigerator.
Serve with pungent cheeses like Manchego or use as a substitute for your usual jam.