Quince, Pear and Dried Wild Blueberry Pie for an 18 Reasons event

by Irvin on November 9, 2010 · 4 comments

Fall comes around sneakily here in SF. While the rest of the country is sweltering, our summers tend to be on the cool side, and this summer was no exception. I found myself wearing sweaters during the summer time, throwing on a jaunty scarf or occasionally turning the heat on while trying to warm myself as my fellow Americans were complaining about the stifling heat and horrible humidity. But then September and October comes around and when all the leaves are turning colors in the other parts of the country, we get our heat. Temperatures in the 80’s and 90’s and then, in a blink of an eye, the end of October comes and it plummets down. Fall has arrived (ever so briefly). Pumpkin, apples, maple syrup, and cinnamon come to the forefront in my mind even without down the sidewalk with the crunch of leaves under my feet (San Francisco sadly lacks deciduous trees, one of it few faults and one of the things I truly miss from St. Louis). It’s time for comfort food and for baking something warm rich and heavy that reminds me of grandma. Like a quince, pear and dried wild blueberry pie.

Well, maybe your grandma. My grandma was a chain smoking vegetarian Buddhist that only spoke Taiwanese. I don’t think she ever ate a pumpkin pie or even knew what cinnamon tasted like.

But you know what I mean. The berries and the summer stone fruit of peaches and plums are gone. Apples come in, and then pears and quinces. I love quinces. Their sweet floral scent is utterly reminiscent of the olden times when your great aunt used to put them in her sock drawer, naturally filling her bedroom of a beguiling scent of honey, cloves and something old and beautiful.

What? Your great aunt didn’t do that? You don’t even know what a quince is?

Photo by the marvelous Jenifer Ward

Ha! I didn’t discover quinces until I moved here to SF 12 years ago. I stumbled upon them when my coworker Deb Godwin gave me a book called The Glass Pantry” back in St. Louis but had never even seen them before moving here. The Glass Pantry had an amazing sounding recipe for poached vanilla scented quinces. What the heck was a quince?

It’s a cousin to the apple, and it’s one of those old school fruits that used to be quite popular in Victorian eras. Some historians suggest that it wasn’t the apple that tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden but rather the quince. With a pedigree like that, and having read the recipe in The Glass Pantry, I set about making a quince pie for my first initial friends here in SF. I invited my friends Cara, Rita and Damon over to taste my newfound fruit pie, and they were newly impressed with the fact that I had discovered a new fruit – and a delicious one at that (Damon thought it tasted a little like a sweet potato, probably because of the starchiness that it has).

In truth, the quince is actually becoming a little more popular again and I’m finding it more and more in local markets and around the city in restaurants. That said, 12 years later, I only use quinces on rare occasions as they’re a lovely fruit, but they do require a little bit of work. Unlike apples or pears or any of the other fruit, you can’t just eat them raw as they tend to be hard, astrigent and sour unless cooked completely.

Quinces also tend to be one of those fruits that are pretty specific in flavor and texture. As much as I love them, I’ve come to realize that I love them in small doses, and despite the honey like sweetness they create, they sometimes also have a mushy starchiness that isn’t quite the texture that I like in a pie made completely with quinces. They do however turn an amazing rose colored when cooked.

So when 18 Reasons had a DIY Dessert event around Pears, I decided I needed to go, because 1. I love 18 Reasons, 2. I love to bake and 3. Pears. Who doesn’t love pears? But to mix it up a little bit, I decided to bring my pear and quince pie. It’s one of those match made in heaven sort of flavors that you normally wouldn’t think of (well I wouldn’t think of) until I stumbled upon the combination in Bubby’s Homemade Pies cookbook via Chow.com. And then it was the duh moment when I was thought to myself – um yeah, fall fruits go hand in hand together. Why didn’t I think of it?

An example of why 18 Reasons is awesome. Rotating artwork, this one inspired by cookbook covers.

But even MORE brilliant was that the recipe instructed to sauté the quinces in butter in a skillet, instead of the traditional poaching. How easy is that? Then you mix it with the pears in the pie filling. Love it.

The pear desserts they had there were pretty awesome as well. There was a super moist gingerbread upside down cake there that I made sure I had seconds of (I’m a sucker for gingerbread – such a holiday flavor!). One of my favorites there was forelle pear upside cake that had a wonderful caramelized flavor to it. Caramel and pears just go so well together!

Hands down the most elegant desserts there was a simple concorde pear tart with almond cream. Beautifully done, there was no spices involved, which really just let the pear flavor shine through. The baker said he sampled as many pears as he could until he found these pears that are a cross between a conference and comice pear at a local farmers fruit stand up in wine country. They were perfect for the tart.

What’s great about the 18 Reasons DIY dessert events is that not only do you get to sample other people’s desserts (for free if you bring your own dessert, or for a small $5 donation at the door) but you get to meet the bakers and talk to them about what inspired them about baking this specific dessert. It’s a great casual evening to meet people and grab a glass of wine and eat something sweet.

18 Reasons, by the way, is having another DIY Dessert Event this coming Thursday, November 11th. The theme is DESSERTS: UNBELIEVABLE and it sounds awesome. It’s about revolutionizing desserts. Wow the judges with your innovative dessert and you could walk home with some bragging rights! On hand to be all judgy will be the pastry chef of Bi-Rite Creamery Natalie Luney and Matt Stewart, author of the novel “The French Revolution” – which the SF Chronicle called “priceless send-ups of the extravagance of San Francisco food culture…”

Oh yeah, and did I mention that I’m one of the judges? Ha! I’m still a little unclear as to what qualifies me to be a judge but I currently practicing my eyebrow arching.

But swing by and check out 18 Reasons on Thursday, November 11 from 7 to 9pm and say hi and drink some wine and eat some dessert!

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Merri November 10, 2010 at 11:02 pm

I have never eaten a quince. That photo you have there is the first time I've ever seen what one looks like. Thanks for the education on them :)

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Anonymous November 12, 2010 at 11:07 pm

Great post! I’m looking to make some changes in my own eating habits and learning to cook, so I appreciate your insight a lot! Thank you. I recently stumbled upon this blog like I did yours and I thought your readers may appreciate it: http://burisonthecouch.wordpress.com/2010/11/04/food-for-thought/

I’ve started to look for blog help more regularly and I think I’m going to add your blog to my list as well. Thanks for the post!

-Amy

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Mr. Jackhonky November 15, 2010 at 3:10 am

@Merri. You should track down a quince when you have a chance. They are lovely! Even if you don't eat it, the smell of them is quite intoxicating. I know people who just keep them around the house during the season, just for the smell alone.

@Amy. Thanks for stopping by! Learning to cook will totally change the way you eat. I learned that from my own experiences! Hope to see you back here!

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Rita December 1, 2010 at 1:32 am

Didn't we also learn, that first time you made a quince pie, that they could be poisonous if handled wrong? I've had much respect for the quince ever since.

HA! I love that you remember Damon compared it to sweet potato, after all the rest of us had been arguing about pear flavors and whatnot before he arrived.

I also love that you have become a celebrity judge at bake-offs, and I'll tell you why you qualify: You, Irvin Lin, always tell it like it is.

p.s.
Don't talk about my grandma like that. ;)

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