The owl and the pussycat weren't the first couple to savor quince as a romantic symbol: as far back as Roman times, lovers gave each other the golden fruit as a pledge to be true. These days, quince is more of a kitchen darling than a courtship tool. Fans adore its exotic fragrance and the magical way the fruit blushes from peach to rose as it cooks.
Quince does require some TLC to make it lovable. The raw fruit is sour, so it's usually poached in syrup, roasted with a sweetener, or simmered until soft before using. "I poach quince slices, a cinnamon stick, and a split vanilla bean for 15 minutes in 2 parts water to 1 part sugar. I then use the fruit the way you use apples or pears in pies or crisps," explains VT executive chef Ann Gentry, owner of Real Food Daily restaurants in Los Angeles. One taste of these recipes and you, too, will find that with quince, it's love at first bite.
Use your eyes and nose: color and fragrance are signs of freshness in quince. Look for fruit that has begun to turn golden. "Don't buy green quince," warns Tosh Kuratomi of Otow Orchard in Granite Bay, Calif. "They were probably picked too early and may never properly ripen." Stock up on quince when you see it; the season is short, but the fruit will keep for up to three months in the refrigerator.
"They dined on mince, and slices of quince, Which they ate with a runcible spoon; And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand, They danced by the light of the moon..."—Edward Lear, "The Owl and the Pussycat"