Cookbook author Barbara Ghazarian tells us about her new cookbook, Simply Quince, which has recipes for interesting ways to use the fruit in main dishes, desserts, and jams.
1) Tell us why you decided to devote an entire book to quince and quince recipes
The short answer is, because no one had done it in 4000 years! I quickly discovered the truth in the old adage: “If it was easy, someone would have already done it.”
The fruit-bearing quince, cydonia oblonga, is a naturally dwarf pome-fruiting tree that hails from the Caucus Mountain regions of Armenia, Georgia, and Northern Iran. I enjoy romanticizing that my love and fascination with the quince runs through my veins along with my Armenian blood. More likely it’s because my (Armenian) grandmother made deliciously sweet, ruby red quince preserves and jelly every fall with fruit harvested from trees that grew in her yard. I’ve been eating and cooking with quince my whole life. The taste of quince is distinctive and memorable. There is no good substitute. Once you’ve fallen in love with the subtle rosy-guava aroma and flavor of quince, only the real thing satisfies.
Cooking at my grandmother’s elbow as a child, I was fascinated by the color change that happens when you slow cook fresh quince in water with a little sugar and lemon juice. The creamy white pulp transitions to golden, then salmon-pink, and finally with continued cooking, to a rich ruby red. It’s 100% natural cooking magic and unique to the quince. For years, I searched for an answer as to why quince does this. I answer the missive in Simply Quince. I’ll give you a hint. Quince is extremely high in good-for-you antioxidants!
The third reason I wrote an entire book devoted to cooking with quince is that quince is one of the oldest cultivars in the world and no other fruit, including the apple, is as interwoven with the story of human civilization. I outline the migration of quince throughout history in the introductory section of Simply Quince. Often referred to in historical sources as an “apple” or “golden apple”, many Biblical Scholars speculate that the quince, which is rarely eaten raw, was the true forbidden fruit, tempting Eve with its golden tone and alluring aroma. It is most likely the “apple” of most Western myths, including the Golden Apples of Hesperides and the “golden apple of discord” credited with starting the Trojan War.
Rome’s first cookbook author, Apicius, preserved whole quinces in a bath of honey in the first century CE. Since the dawn of civilization, human beings have piggy-backed the quince around the world. Less than a decade after settling in New England, the Puritans brought the quince to Massachusetts. A century later, the pioneers loaded quince seedlings on their wagons and carried the quince west. Since you are having a contest to win a copy of Simply Quince, a great question to ask is Why? Why did mankind cultivate the quince everywhere he went?
2) Could you tell us about your research for the book. What did it involve?
A few years after the initial publication of my first cookbook, Simply Armenian: Naturally Healthy Ethnic Cooking Made Easy, I was casting about for another project. It was fall. Over the years I’d been expanding my understanding of how to cook quince. It bugged me that after multiple millenniums, the fruit’s repertoire didn’t extend much past traditional jams and jellies. My decision to do a cookbook was a leap of faith. I majored in molecular biology in college so it seemed natural to couple scientific research methods with my culinary know-how to figure out how to prepare quince so that its gentle flavor would shine in a wide variety of dishes, both savory and sweet. I guess I believed that I could figure it out.
Once the decision was made, from late August through March, for three consecutive quince seasons, all I did was experiment, create, test, tweak, and retest over 400 recipes to obtain the 70 dishes presented in Simply Quince. It was a bit crazy. I fed neighbors and my daughter’s school friends lots and lots of quince. The good news is that traditional quince lovers will be delighted to find jam, jelly, and cobbler recipes; beginning cooks will find success preparing Candied Quince and Quince Salsa; and professional chefs will expand their repertoire with a wide array of savory-sweet stews, exotic mains, condiments, and spectacular pastries. Simply Quince won the Best Cookbook 2009 Pinnacle Book Achievement Award and was a USA Book News 2009 Best Books finalist in the general cookbook category. High praise since Simply Quince is anything but a general cookbook.
3) What is Team Quince?
On my journey, I’ve met many people, gardeners and orchardist, cooks and foodies, who, without prompting, exclaim, “I love quince.” It’s amazing. “I love quince,” is exclaimed by folks across the globe in just about every language. All seem to agree that it’s time to reestablish the quince to its rightful place on our tables and in our gardens. Team Quince is designed to do that. Quince has been neglected for nearly a century, so there’s lots of work to be done. Simply Quince is only a starting point. Team Quince already boasts some well-known “quince quacks” among its membership; Joseph Postman, Curator of Quince at the USDA-ARS National Germplasm Repository in Covallis, Oregon for one. I’m hoping Team Quince will grow into a vibrant virtual community of quince lovers and provide a way to share personal cooking and growing experiences, report quince news, exchange recipes, search for unidentified varieties, and connect with others who share passion for the quince.
4) What are some of your favorite quince dishes? Did you create them yourself or are they traditional recipes?
To be honest, every one of the dishes in the Simply Quince collection had to make the grade. Quince is relatively unknown today. It’s been off the culinary radar for over a generation. I’d be rich if I got a dime every time a person asks me, “What does quince taste like?” Given this reality, to be included in the book, a dish had to be easy, really yummy, and most importantly, showcase the taste of quince. Misconceptions about the quince abound. One of the most hurtful is that the flavor of quince is strong and pungent. Nothing is further from the truth. When cooked properly, quince has a gentle, mild flavor. That’s one of the reasons why quince was used as the base for the first marmalades. Strong flavors, like vanilla, cardamom, cloves, and orange, overpower quince quickly. Only education will put an end to the multitude of recipes published every autumn that pair quince with flavor combos and quantities such that no one will taste the quince. All the recipes in my book, taste like quince!
It may seem like an oxymoron to write a cookbook on quince and to say that I am a lazy cook, but if my head spins when read a recipe’s directions, I lose interest immediately. Most of my dishes are creative variations on traditional recipes. Savory over sweet wins with me. Given that, my favorite quince dishes include Quince Salsa and Quince-Orange Pickles as starters; Quince-Infused Vinegar adds amazing flavor to any salad; Quince-Apple Sauce and my original Quince and Roasted Cashew Stuffing are delicious sides, my Lamb and Quince Tagine and Turkey Chili with Quince balance sweet with heat to perfection; my Fresh Ginger and Quince Pomegranate Chutney compliments main meat dishes flawlessly, Fiery Quince-Tomato Spread is my favorite preserve, Quince Butter is a close second; Creamy Quince Mascarpone Pie and Caramelized Quince Upside-Down Cake win on my table as dessert selections; and nothing beats the White Pizza with Quince, Prosciutto Pizza or finishes a meal like Quince-Infused Grappa. All wow guests, even first timer’s to quince.
6) Could you tell us about your first cookbook, Simply Armenian?
Simply Armenian won critical acclaim as well and is now in its 3rd printing. I’ve been accused of giving away all the secrets of the delicious Armenian table. A fact I’m proud of. Rather than rely on condiments, sauces, or lots of seasonings, Armenian dishes depend upon the food itself, or the combination of foods, to give fine flavor. The cuisine relies heavily on whole-grain bulgur (cracked wheat), olive oil, lemon juice, mint, parsley, and yogurt. Lots of vegetables extend the dishes, which are eaten with large qualities of bread, especially flatbread. Other than salt and pepper, cayenne and cumin are the spices most often used. Lamb is the preferred meat. While not a vegetarian cookbook, over half the recipes are meat-free and over 50 are vegan. When Armenian Christians fast on holy days, primarily during Great Lent, our diet is meat-free, including dairy. The naturally healthy Armenian table is a poster child for the Mediterranean Diet. I’m slightly overweight, not because I eat poorly, but because I have portion control issues. It’s all those little dishes!
7. Are there any plans for future books?
No future books are on the roster at the moment. A cookbook devoted to bulgur may be in my future.
8) Is there anything else you would like to add?
Thank you for your interest in my work and sharing news about Simply Quince. Foodies are constantly searching for new ingredients. If we all pitch in and spread the word, it would be great to see the heirloom quince set a new trend in food. Got quince?
9) How can readers find you on the web?
Simultaneous to the posting of this interview on your blog, (my web site) will launch at Queen of Quince. The title, “Queen of Quince,” is meant to be a little campy. Remember, most people don’t know what a quince is. Please visit the web site. Join Team Quince. I’d love to meet and work with you. Welcome to the world of quince,
Thanks for the informative and interesting interview, Barbara! Check out her website at http://queen-of-quince.com/ (See my review of Simply Quince.)GIVEAWAY OFFER of two copies, U.S. only: Publishing Works, Inc. is giving away two copies of the cookbook. To enter to win, leave a comment with your email address at the end of this post, so we can contact you. Winners will be notified by email and asked to supply their mailing address for Publishing Works, Inc. to send the books. No. P.O. boxes, please. For an extra chance to win, become a follower of Book Dilettante.
The contest will run through Feb. 28.
UPDATE: Two winners were chosen by Randomizer on March 1: Esme and Kalynnick. They have been emailed and have until March 3 to respond. Congrats, and enjoy the cookbook!