Friday, November 23, 2012

The Golden Apple

In Greek mythology, the Princess Atalanta, a superstar athlete, tells her father she'll only marry a man who can beat her in a footrace.To make the contest more interesting, it is decreed that those who try but lose will be killed.

The youth Hippomenes asks the Goddess of Love, Aphrodite, for help, and she gives him three golden apples. Three times in the race, Atalanta pulls ahead of Hippomenes, and each time he rolls out a golden apple on the track, tempting her to slow and pick it up. He wins the race, and wins the hand of the princess.

The Golden Apples of mythology are generally agreed by scholars to have been quinces - Cydonia oblonga.

A quince can be pretty distracting, as this pretty display caught my eye at the Santa Monica Wednesday Farmers' Market.

Quinces look like lumpy, oversize yellow apples. At the farmstall, a sign said "Ask me how to eat them" and while I waited for the seller to finish up with another customer, an elderly gentlemen spoke up.

"In Persia we stew them," he said. "You can go to Westwood and have stew and rice with quinces. They are a very important fruit in Persian cuisine!"

The fruit seller agreed, but also said you could slice it up, saute the slices in butter with a little sugar and cinnamon, and serve it on ice cream.

Carved stone fruit in the Ruga degli Spezieri, Venice
Quinces aren't good eaten raw - they have an off-putting astringency that softens only when cooked. They are powerfully fragrant - the interior of my car was perfumed by the time I drove home by the single fruit in my market bag. In medieval times ladies would hold a quince pomander so that they could breathe in the scent instead of the foul stink of the streets.

Carved fruit on a 16th century house in Dijon, France
 For dessert at our Thanksgiving dinner, I found a recipe for Quince and Apple Crisp with Rum Raisins

For the Raisins:
1/2 cup raisins (I used golden ones)
1/2 cup rum

Simmer the raisins in the rum for about three minutes. Then, with a match or lighter, flame the rum and let it burn until it goes out (about a minute). Let the raisins cool, reserving a tablespoon of the rum separately in a dish. You can do this ahead of time.

For the crisp topping:
3/4 stick of butter
1 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
A pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon of fresh-grated nutmeg

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium low heat until it turns a golden brown. This will take about five minutes. Take it off the heat directly when it colors, so it won't burn. Let it cool.
Mix the dry ingredients. When the butter is cool, stir it and the reserved rum from the raisins into the flour mixture with a fork until it forms clumps. You can do this ahead of time and hold to assemble the dessert later.

For the fruit:
1 pound of quinces - I had one large one
2 cups water
1 and 1/2 cup sugar
2 Gala apples
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon flour
A pinch of salt

Peel, core and cut cut the quince into quarters or eighths if it's a big quince. Put the water and 1 and 1/2 cup sugar in a saucepan over medium heat and stir till the sugar is dissolved and the syrup is clear. Simmer the quince pieces in the syrup for about 15 minutes - they will be buoyant at first, then as they cook they will become darker and translucent and start to sink into the syrup. Spoon them out into a bowl and let them cool, then cut them into bite size pieces (you can do this with a spoon). Sometimes cooked quince will turn pink - this is normal, don't worry about it. (Mind didn't but that's OK too.)

When you're ready to cook the crisp:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
Butter a heat-proof cooking dish - I used a 9" Pyrex pie plate because that's what I had

Peel, core and cut the apples into bite size pieces. Toss with the remaining ingredients, then add the quince and raisins. Turn the fruit into the buttered dish, top with the butter and flour mixture, and bake for 55 minutes. Let cool for 20 minutes before serving, topped with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

It's delicious the next morning for breakfast, too!

Or, if you don't like this, you can try Chorost'e Be, or Persian stew with quince! Next time I find quinces, I'll try that!


Gilly said...

London in December? Kew Gardens, easy to get to, and lovely warm huge glasshouses if its wet or cold or both!

Love the apple!

smalltownme said...


"They dined on mince, and slices of quince, which they ate with a runcible spoon..."

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

I'm feeling three things at once now: a desire to travel to Europe, hungry, and wishing I had an old copy of "The Owl and the Pussycat."

claudiagiulia said...

Loved this! I often sauteed quinces in butter or roasted them in the oven and they are absolutely delicious