The fruit seller was very concerned about us. Among the crates of apples and pears grown on his nearby farm, we’d spotted a crate of what looked like large, lumpy pears. Where others were marked with the variety, these were labeled “Coing,” a word we didn’t recognize. We picked out a few, brought them to the fruit seller for weighing, and asked him, in limited French, “Are these apples or pears?”
“Do you want to eat them?” he asked, miming eating an apple.
“Um… sure?” I replied.
“No,” he said, and then launched into rapid French, “Something something something cook something.” He looked at us expectantly.
He found another shopper who spoke English, and conveyed that if we tried to eat the coing-fruit like an apple, we’d break our teeth. That they had to be cooked first, made into preserves or something something stove something, yes?
“Okay,” I said. He seemed unconvinced that I knew what I was getting into. “I will search the internet and cook them,” I said. That was acceptable.
Later in the day, I suddenly realized that “coing” was French for quince. I’d seen quince before, but they’d always been much smaller, and I’d never actually made any.
I’d just read Isis the Scientist’s description of making perada with apples, onions, garlic, chile peppers, and cumin, and was thoroughly tempted to make a quince version. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to locate cumin, and the chile peppers I picked up turned out to be sweet.
The internet had many other fine suggestions. Quince is super high in pectin, making it ideal for jellies or fruit paste. Poaching seems to be a popular treatment. The fruit is incredibly aromatic, and several folks have suggested adding a quince or two to your next apple pie. It also goes well with savory foods, and I’m definitely planning a lamb tagine with quince when I get home.
It was very hard, though not quite tooth-breaking territory. More importantly, the raw fruit was very tart and also very astringent — something that goes away when you cook it.
In the end, I cut my quinces in half — which took some effort — hacked out the cores, and put them in the little oven for a half-hour, until they were tender and bubbling. They were still a little tart, so I sprinkled them with cinnamon and sugar, topped them with a quick oatmeal streusel (the same thing I top my apple crisp with), and put them back in the oven until the topping crisped.
Quite excellent, though a little tart. A scoop of vanilla ice cream would have balanced it out perfectly, though all things being equal, I’d probably go for a combination of apples and quince next time.
Claire’s oatmeal streusel topping for all manner of fruit crisps
Note: NOT a real recipe. If you like predictable results, you should consult an actual recipe. I started out following the apple crisp topping recipe from the 1975 edition of the Joy of Cooking, but these days I do it entirely by eyeball, with mixed results.
- Mix 1 handful of flour with a couple tablespoons of cold butter. Cut the butter into the flour (or rub it together with your fingers) as though you were making a pie crust for people whose opinion you didn’t really care about.
- Add 1 handful of brown sugar, two handfuls of oatmeal (any kind), and a generous sprinkle of cinnamon. If you want, you can also add nutmeg, ginger, cloves, or what have you. If you like nuts, add a bunch of chopped walnuts or pecans. You can’t have too many nuts.
- Mix it all together. If you can’t squeeze it into clumps, add a little more butter or a very very scant sprinkle of water.
- Put your cut up fruit into a baking pan of some sort. Sprinkle it with sugar and cinnamon if you want.
- You can just sprinkle the clumps of streusel on top of the fruit. I usually grab about a tablespoon, pat it between my palms into a flat sort of disk, then set it on top of the fruit, and repeat, spreading them out over the surface of the fruit.
- Put the whole thing into the oven at 350° to 400° for 15 to 45 minutes, or until the fruit is tender and the topping is crispy.