Autumn - the dawning of the age of quinces

Even though it’s somewhat forgotten, quince is without a doubt a fruit worthy of our attention. Back in the day quince was an indispensible fruit when preparing winter stocks and homemade sweets. It possesses and interesting aroma and a pronounced sweet flavour milder than apples and pears.

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When forests take on the autumn palette of colours and we get the first morning fogs, we can be sure that some more autumn ingredients are coming to the forefront. Whereas markets abound with numerous imported and exotic fruit and vegetable varieties, quinces go unnoticed, which is one of the reasons why restaurants have stopped including it in their menus and coming up with new recipes.

When its green colour starts turning yellow, that’s when you know that quince harvest may begin. Given the fact that they can be left on the tree longer, they’re picked from late September all the way to late October. This is an interesting fruit as it’s not eaten raw. Instead of that, it requires thermal processing such as cooking or roasting. When compared to pears and apples with which they’re often combined in recipes, quinces have a much harder flesh and they’re more difficult to clean. However, the quince and its rich flavours have been recognised since ancient times so it was used to make perfumes or sweets often given as presents. This type of sweets is traditionally called kitenkez in Croatia.

When it comes to recipes, quinces are most commonly used in desserts, but they can also be combined with game, lamb or duck. Quinces may be prepared as a dessert in their own right if you stuff them with honey and walnuts and oven-bake them. Grated quinces can serve as an excellent stuffing for pies, crostatas, tarts or all kinds of sponge cakes. Quince juice may be used to make fine parfait creams and stuffing for creamy cakes. Due to its distinct aromas you don’t want to overdo with spices in order to preserve it original taste.

Finding quinces in menus is quite an undertaking. But you can enjoy them in plenty of homemade products prepared by restaurants in central and eastern Croatia where different types of fruit and vegetable are grown next to the restaurants. This somewhat forgotten fruit is one of them. We give you an overview of these homemade products. If you go to Zmajevac in Baranja you’ll find family restaurant Josić whose restaurant menu is complemented by award-winning wines they make in their own winery. Although their menu currently does not include quinces, restaurant owner Damir Josić shared with us a couple of suggestions he himself might include in the restaurant’s menu.

You can make fantastic quince sauce to be served with game dishes. Wild boar or venison meat is cooked with root vegetables and quince chunks. When the vegetables are done, take them out, blend them all together and you got yourself a phenomenal bread knedle (from knödel, "dumpling" ) or gnocchi dressing to serve with the meat. Duck baked under peka (large metal or ceramic lid like a shallow bell with which bread dough or meat to be baked are covered, and over which ashes and live coals are placed) with quinces also makes a fantastic specialty. Quince will provide the duck with a sweet aroma and will make the meat tender.

The small rural household Stara Preša located in Šenkovec near Zagreb is where you’ll find owner Biserka Švigir who welcomes her guests with classic home cooking. In addition to quite a few homemade jams, compotes and liqueurs made from fruits she grows herself, we shouldn’t forget quince products. She shared her recipes with us.

If you visit us, you can try a nice quince liqueur, and sometimes we make quince compotes. We also use quinces when pickling cabbage because it provides the cabbage with flavours and a yellowish colour. Quinces are a beautiful type of fruit. It’s just that they don’t last very long and are extremely neglected. Our quince liqueur is over two years old. I place a whole quince in a jar containing sugar and grape rakija (is the collective term for fruit brandy popular in Central Europe and Southeast Europe). I let it stand until the sugar melts and the flavours merge. The quince gives the rakija a nice yellow colour and is very decorative. I prepare quince compote to my very own recipe I use to make compote containing other fruit. First I peel the quince and slice it, then I add a slice of lemon and cinnamon stick. The quince is then cooked in a mixture composed of two thirds of water and one third of sugar. It doesn’t take long for the compote to be done and you can enjoy it all winterlong.

The one-of-a-kind Kovač Čarda in Baranja, which is located near the Hungarian border, offers all kinds of fish stew, pot stews and goulash. They also serve quince rakija. Arpad Šipec, the restaurant owner’s son and heir to this heaven of culinary tradition, shared with us the atmosphere of quince harvest.

Among other types of fruit, we also grow quinces. The quince is a very delicate and demanding fruit that requires a lot of hard work. We use quinces picked directly from the tree to make rakija because we want the fruit to be fresh and healthy, which will later on affect the taste of rakija. The rakija production process is no different than making other kinds of rakija in our region. All I can say that quince rakija is definitely the most sought after and you can’t start any meal without it.