Now despite the familiarity of the name, I came to realize that I hadn't a clue what quince tasted like. There's only so far that an evocative book description can replace taste. The only product I knew I'd eaten before that was primarily quince-based was mostarda, a spicy purée of quince served with mascarpone and pan d'oro around Christmastime in Italy. The recipes in Grigson's book told me how versatile a fruit it was, how well it went with meats, how it was the best flavouring for apple and pear tarts. The chapter also told me that in the early '80s in northern France, they were difficult to get, for all they grew in the region, and that they thrived better in the warmth of southern France, although they come originally from Central Asia**.
Rumor tells that these are the golden apples for which Atalanta races, and which Paris awarded to the most beautiful goddess, thereby eventually triggering the Trojan War. Of course I was intrigued! (Although equally I'd like to know how far back that "apple" interpretation goes, and from what sources the author found them; she dose not say.)
I've hardly left the house the past several days. My kitchen is well-enough stocked, there's snow and chill outside, and I have a dissertation to write. But the concept of quinces keeps wafting through my mind. I bought some mostarda at a local butcher's the other day. I found a jar of quince jam on Epicureal, a fairly new gourmet food online store based in Ontario. I now know that Whole Foods sells quince paste (membrillo), which is meant to be lovely with manchego cheese. I've run across mentions of quince liquor in other countries. And with fruit markets so richly varied and exotic as those in Toronto, and with their availability listed as August through January, perhaps I could even find an actually quince somewhere in this city.
I'm not sure yet what I'm going to do with all of these leads. Do I buy one of everything and hold a tasting with quince-interested friends? Do I try one or two of them on my own? It'll be an adventure.
* Quince is melimelum in Latin, for those of you who may someday find this useful to know.
More information on the history and use of quince can be found here.