I’ve been failing in my efforts to get people excited about quinces. I took baskets of handsome quinces to sell along with my jams at two events this fall, but everyone wanted my Asian pears instead. I’d say, “Smell this!” And I’d push a big, beautiful yellow quince at their noses. Most described the fragrance as wonderful or heavenly or pineapple-like. A boy not quite old enough to walk or talk wrinkled his nose at an Asian pear but tried to take a big bite of the quince. I offered tastes of quince paste at one event and quince jelly at another, and the samples provoked more enthusiastic comments and questions. But when I said the fruit should be cooked, faces fell and turned away. Nobody wanted to go to the trouble of cooking quinces into jelly, jam, or paste. Even baking the fruit like apples or poaching it in wine seemed too difficult.
“Why didn’t you suggest roasting them?” Robert asked, when I came home from the second event with a nearly full basket of quinces. I hadn’t thought of that. It was exactly what I should have done.
Everybody seems to be roasting vegetables these days. You come home in the evening, turn on the oven, and slice, salt, and oil whatever starchy vegetables are at hand. You put the pan in the hot oven and read the mail and listen to the messages on the answering machine and before you know it your dinner is nearly ready; you barely have time to fry some sausages or fish fillets to accompany the veggies.
Think of quince as another vegetable for roasting. For Thanksgiving this year, I combined quinces with orange- and white-fleshed sweet potatoes and Purple Haze carrots—each ingredient sweet but uniquely textured, with the quince providing a welcome tart note. All the flavors were heightened by the drying effect of the oven heat.
Before quince season ends, please try this: Half and core a quince or two—don’t bother peeling it—and slice it into wedges about 1 inch thick. Choose a vegetable or two to accompany the quince. Cut sweet potatoes, peeled if you prefer, into pieces about the same size. Cut carrots, if they’re long or thick, into pieces about ½ inch thick. Other vegetables you might try include parsnips (sliced like big carrots), potatoes (whole fingerlings or cut large tubers) and onions or shallots (sliced if they’re large). Put the quince and vegetables into a roasting pan, and, if you like, add an herb sprig or two. Toss the mixture with a little oil, spread the pieces into a single layer, and salt and pepper them. Roast them at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for about 45 minutes, turning them after the first 20 minutes or so. Serve them hot.
This is not only an easy way for working people to feed themselves well; it’s also an impressive dish for company, an effective way to get children to eat fruit and vegetables, and an opportunity for even babies to learn that quinces can taste just as good as they smell.