Most people grow flowering quince for its gorgeous, early spring blooms, and I can’t really blame them. The flowers are show-stoppers, and may be orange, magenta, pale pink, or red. Unfortunately (at least for us foragers), many modern hybrids are bred to be sterile, and don’t produce fruit. Apparently some people find the fruit to be a nuisance. Let’s not call those people wrong…they’re just misinformed. Clearly they have never tasted flowering quince fruit.
Double-flowered shrubs have been bred for bloom, not fruit. So look for single-flowered shrubs, and check the plant tag. If a plant is fertile, it may indicate this on the tag. That’s how I chose my ‘Toyo-Nishiki’ cultivar.
Many people assume the fruit is inedible, perhaps because they tried biting into one as a child. Raw, the fruit is better suited to being flung in a slingshot than served for dessert. Ah, but cooked is an entirely different story. The application of heat brings color to the fruit, softens its sour flavor (it’s still tart!), and transforms the texture from rock hard to satisfyingly succulent.
Leave the fruit on the shrub until it begins to fall of its own accord, which can be as late as October or November, depending on where you forage. Flowering quince fruit is much smaller than true quince fruit, but the flavor and texture is very similar, and flowering quince can be used in many true quince recipes.
“Like what?” you ask. Like:
- Flowering quince is a great fruit for making jelly, because it contains LOTS of natural pectin. For beginning jelly-makers who have yet to witness a crystal-clear demonstration of the jelling point, use flowering quince for your first no-pectin-added jelly. It reaches the jelling point quickly and obviously, and produces a vibrant red jelly with a bright tart taste.
- Cook the juice longer, and you can make membrillo (aka quince paste), then slice it and serve with manchego cheese.
- You can poach halved quinces in wine or juice, and serve them for dessert with vanilla ice cream or Greek yogurt. Or, for something completely different, stuff your quince halves with a combination of meat and spices.
- Grate quince flesh and preserve it in syrup, then stir it into your morning oatmeal.
- Toss quince fruit into your slow cooker to make quince sauce. (Be sure to taste as you go; you’ll need more sugar than you would for applesauce.) Once you’ve got the quince sauce, use it instead of crabapple sauce in this whisky cake.
- And since we’re on the subject of spirits…soak quince fruit in vodka, then add sugar to make a delicious yellow liqueur that’s high in vitamin C. After all that cooking, you deserve a cocktail!