Here in L.A., the dark red squares of dulce de membrillo (Mexican quince candy) are pretty commonplace, their intensely sweet and floral fragrance adding a seasonal exclamation point to autumn festivities and apple pies. But in its raw state, the quince is a little harder to find here in Southern California, as the trees need a solid chill time to rest up for spring bloom.
Thankfully, a few Tehachapi growers populate our markets and are offering the rock hard fruit through the end of the month. You don't eat quince raw: their tannic tartness makes them about as edible as a raw artichoke. But it's worth the extra effort it takes to render them into pickles, pastes, and candies.
The fruit's irregular shape and size reference their distant apple cousins. The trees look a lot like apple trees too, though perhaps a bit more columnar. But the quince's similarities to apples end there. The flesh is hard, like a dense watermelon rind, and has all the taste appeal of an unripe persimmon. Careful and focused attention must be paid while trying to peel and quarter them, as the knife can easily slip or catch. But once you have your pieces prepared, you can treat the fruit as roughly as you like.
A hot and spicy pickle, maybe made with some homemade pineapple vinegar, tames the tannins and yields a cherished Oaxacan treat. You can also poach the fruit in syrup and watch as the flesh goes from a pale beige to its more recognized rosy hue. Stew it down into a luscious paste that would compliment any charcuterie board or cheese plate. Or add small pieces of it to apple pies to brighten the fragrance and add complexity.
Quince aren't terribly common, but you can find them at the Walker Farms booth at the Glendale and Pasadena markets. As tough as they are, the skin is prone to damage, so a few bruises and cuts aren't uncommon or unfixable: simply cut or peel them away. Just avoid fruit with large and soft dark spots, and by all means, if you do end up in front of a crate of quince, take a moment to hover over it and inhale. The fragrance is rich and floral, with an almost pineapple-like tropical nose, which is probably what prompted those first quince eaters not to give up on the fruit's culinary potential.