As the local fall crops begin to arrive at weekly farmers markets, it's time to gear up for a new round of fresh produce to enjoy for the season. From persimmons, pomegranates and winter squash to an array of hearty greens, such as kale and bunches of rainbow chard, there are quite a few ingredients to work with this time of year. One of them, available only October through December, is quince, which you're probably less familiar with. At first glance, this member of the apple and pear family may resemble a cross between the two. But if you've ever tried to bite into one, you likely discovered a much different flavor. Cultivated for more than 4,000 years in Asia and the Mediterranean, quince serves its major function when cooked, where it takes on flavors similar to its relatives. Its acidity and astringent properties are too intense to be enjoyed raw, which is why the quince is mostly used in preserves, pies and sauces.

When selecting a quince at the market, ask the farmer to assist you. The quince varies in shape and size, but resembles what you may expect if a pear and apple were spliced together. When purchased fresh, it has a green to yellow skin that turns more yellow when ripe. It will, however, remain firm, so do not expect it to soften (if it does, discard). Any brown spotting on the outside is completely normal, and will not affect the flavor. Once home, the quince should be stored at room temperature on the counter until ripe. It can then be refrigerated, lasting two weeks or more.


Because of its strong aroma and flavor, which intensifies as it cooks, quince can be added in small amounts. It is often used in homemade applesauce, tarts and breads, or in pork or chicken stews. While I have had great success with all of these, one of my favorite ways to enjoy quince is by baking it slowly in the oven for a simple and healthy dessert. One of the unusual properties of quince is that it develops a pink to deep red color as it cooks, making for a stunning presentation. Serve it up with a little vanilla bean ice cream and a nice glass of port and you have a great ending to a meal.

Sam Edelman is general manager of the Santa Barbara Certified Farmers Market Association. His column appears every Thursday. E-mail him at food@newspress.com.

BAKED QUINCE

3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup water

1 tablespoon cinnamon

2 tablespoons lemon juice

3 quinces, peeled, cored and sliced in half (available from Garcia Family Farm at the Tuesday Santa Barbara, Thursday Goleta, Saturday Santa Barbara and Sunday Camino Real farmers markets)

1 large apple, peeled and finely grated

Vanilla bean ice cream

Sprig mint, for garnish

Port wine, optional

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In baking dish, add sugar, water, cinnamon and lemon juice to the bottom and mix until sugar dissolves. Place quinces face down in the liquid and top with grated apple. Cover and bake for about 2 hours, or until soft. Serve with vanilla bean ice cream and sprig of mint. Enjoy with your favorite port. I used a chocolate-flavored port and poured a little on top before serving. You can also drizzle some of the liquid from the baking dish over the ice cream.

Yield: 6 servings