Quinces are plump, slightly ovoid fruits that ripen near the beginning of autumn. Many fruit growers enjoy growing these fruits because they’re low-maintenance, hardy plants that often produce an abundant harvest. Those that want to try quinces can often find them at farmers’ markets and at local grocery stores. When purchasing or harvesting these fruits, it is important to look for signs that they’re ripe but not starting to spoil.
Most quinces remain hard and yellow even when ripe, rendering them inedible in their raw state. Once cooked, they usually have a very sweet, slightly floral flavor. The best fruits are usually plump and very firm. Some quince fruits might have brown or black speckles on them, but this is not usually a sign of disease or spoilage and should not affect how the fruit tastes. Cooks should peel away these spots before eating quinces, though.
The best quinces usually have a slightly sweet, apple-like scent, especially around the stem and blossom ends. Any fruits that have large patches of brown, squishy flesh, or wrinkly skin are starting to spoil and should be skipped over. Large fruits are also typically riper and sweeter than small fruits because they’ve had more time to ripen on the tree. This is not always the case, as some quince trees may simply bear small fruit, but it is a good rule of thumb to use in the grocery store.
When harvesting quince fruit from a tree, most of the above rules apply. The fruit should have a good color and be free of soft spots. Gardeners should also look for bore holes in their fruit, and bruised and holey fruit should be harvested and discarded far away from the tree. Bruises and holes could indicate disease or insect damage, so getting rid of the infected fruit can help keep it from spreading.
Gardeners usually harvest quinces in the early fall, around mid-September. Sharp gardening shears should be used to snip the fibrous stems and the quinces should be gently placed in baskets rather than tossed into them. As with apples, quinces bruise easily and one spoiled quince may ruin the whole bunch.
After harvest, quinces may be placed in a cool, dark, dry place for storage. They may continue to ripen for three or four days, at which time the cook should typically use them in cooking. Jams, jellies, and relishes usually freeze well. Quince fruits may also be used in pies, tarts, and as part of hearty compotes and thick fruit sauces. Some cooks even like to simmer them with sugar, puree them, and use them as pancake syrup.