It might seem strange, but there are actually some fruits which can’t be eaten fresh. Quinces are one such fruit. Extremely sour and astringent due to a high tannin content, they are virtually impossible to digest when raw, but once cooked as a preserve or jam, they are very sweet and enjoyable. Indeed, in popular Sicilian cuisine quinces are used to prepare ‘cotognata’ jam, while in Emilia they are the essential ingredient in Bolognese mostarda, or black jam, which is used to fill “pinza” or traditional sweet pastries called sweet tortelli.
The quince tree resembles a cross between an apple and a pear tree and has ancient origins. The botanical name derives from Cydon, the ancient city on the island of Crete from where the tree originated. The fruits are called quince apples or quince pears, depending on whether they are round or oblong in shape.
It seems that even the term marmalade comes from the Portuguese marmelo, i.e. quince. Ancient recipe books dating back to the 5th century A.D. provide instructions on how to boil quinces with honey to produce a jam.