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Turkish quinces range in size from small to large, depending on the variety, and average 6 to 10 centimeters in diameter and 5 to 11 centimeters in length. The fruits also vary from having a uniform, round, ovate shape to an ovate-pyriform shape with a small and curved, raised neck. The skin is generally firm, smooth to downy, thin, and easily bruised, and has a bumpy texture, ripening from green to a golden, lemon-yellow hue with maturity. Some varieties will remain firm when ripe, while others will slightly soften, sometimes showcasing tiny brown spots on the surface. The fruits will also develop a musky, tropical, and floral scent with notes of lemon and apple as it ripens. Underneath the surface, the flesh is white to ivory, dense, spongy, aqueous to dry, and slightly gritty, encasing a central core filled with dark brown seeds. Turkish quinces will contribute sweet-tart, mildly astringent flavors to sweet, tropical notes when raw, depending on the variety. Specific cultivars can also be eaten raw and have a sweet, aromatic taste. When cooked, the fruits soften in texture, developing deeper fruity undertones. Some quince cultivars will have a flavor reminiscent of the tartness of oranges and limes, the acidity of pineapples, and the sweet taste of pears and apples. Other varieties may have a more subacid, sweet, and neutral flavor.
Turkish quinces are harvested in the early fall and kept in cold storage through the winter. The fruit’s peak season in Turkey extends from October to December.
Turkish quince, botanically classified as Cydonia oblobga, is a general descriptor that encompasses several varieties cultivated in Turkey, belonging to the Rosaceae family. The golden fruits grow on a deciduous shrub or small tree reaching 2 to 4 meters in height and are an ancient crop valued for their long storage life, fragrant aroma and flavor, and versatility in culinary preparations. Turkey is the world’s largest quince producer and exporter, and the fruits are commonly known as Ayva in Turkish. The most common cultivars sold in commercial markets are Limon, Bardak, Ekmek, Esme, Harvan, and Demir. These varieties range in flavor, texture, and appearance and are favored for their various characteristics. Limon quinces are known for their bright yellow coloring and faint, lemon-like aroma, while Demir quinces, translating to mean “iron,” are recognized by their dense, firm texture. Ekmek quinces mean “bread” and are a popular variety for their sweet taste and extended storage; Havran is an early-ripening cultivar, Bardak has a tangy flavor, and Esme is valued for fresh-eating. There are many other quince varieties grown on a smaller scale in Turkey, including cultivars such as Istanbul, Midilli, Seker, Gordes, Cukurgobek, and Bencikli.
Turkish quinces are an excellent source of fiber to regulate the digestive tract and vitamin C to strengthen the immune system while reducing inflammation. The fruits also provide phosphorus to protect bones and teeth, iron to develop the protein hemoglobin for oxygen transport through the bloodstream, and other nutrients, including zinc, magnesium, and copper. Beyond vitamins, Turkish quinces are a natural source of pectin, a type of starch found in cell walls that can be used to thicken preserves, jams, and jellies.
Turkish quinces range in flavor from sweet, floral, and fruity to tropical with a tangy, subtle astringency and can be utilized fresh or cooked. When quinces are grown in warmer regions, the fruits can be peeled and consumed straight off the tree, but in colder areas, the fruits are generally too firm and dry for raw consumption. Turkish quinces can also be sliced and added to green and fruit salads, thinly shaved into sandwiches, or served with cheeses on appetizer platters. In addition to fresh preparations, Turkish quinces are typically cooked and are simmered into jams, jellies, and preserves or cooked into membrillo, a thick paste paired with cheese. In Turkey, quinces are stewed and served chilled in a sweet syrup as a fresh dessert. The fruits are also incorporated into pastries, roasted over charcoal, or peeled, sliced, and grilled, sprinkled with coffee powder and lemon juice. Beyond sweet recipes, Turkish quinces can be tossed into soups and stews, stuffed with meats and grains, cooked and stirred into salads, skewered on kebabs, or mixed into rice. The fruits can also be pressed into juices, apple cider, or other beverages. Turkish quinces pair well with cheeses such as gorgonzola, manchego, and cheddar, nuts including pine nuts, walnuts, and pistachios, spices such as cinnamon, allspice, and cloves, aromatics including garlic, onion, ginger, and shallots, thyme, bay leaves, and meats such as lamb, beef, and poultry. Whole, unwashed Turkish quinces can be stored at room temperature until ripe. Once fragrant and mature, the fruits can be wrapped in plastic and stored for several weeks in the fridge. Some Turkish households also have cold cellars, where the fruits can be stored for several weeks to months.
Turkish quinces are traditionally incorporated into a dessert known as ayva tatlisi, translating from Turkish to mean “quince dessert.” The famous dessert is seasonally consumed in the winter when quinces are at their peak and is a popular dish made by home cooks and restaurants. Ayva tatlisi is comprised of poached quinces in syrup, topped with kaymak, a Turkish clotted cream. Kaymak is a thick, rich mixture of milk that has been simmered for several hours, and in one region of Turkey, the milk is from water buffalos fed pressed poppy seeds. Kaymak is also used as a filling breakfast dish, and it is common to use it as a creamy topping for sweet desserts. When the quinces are being poached, a mixture of cloves, lemon juice, sugar, and water are used to soften the fruit’s flesh, and with extended cooking, the quinces will develop a vibrant red-pink hue. Ayva tatlisi is a tender, melting dessert consumed as a warming dish, and crushed pistachios are sprinkled over the plate as a final crunchy addition.
Quinces are native to a region spanning from the Eastern Mediterranean, through the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains, to Central Asia near Turkmenistan and have been growing wild since ancient times. The fruits were spread throughout Europe and Asia over time through trade routes and were known among the Greeks and Romans, often depicted in mythology as a golden apple. Quinces continued to travel with human expansion, and many varieties were regionally created through cultivation. In Turkey, quinces have been cultivated for centuries, and production of the fruits is generally concentrated in the northern and western regions of the country. However, the fruits can be found in all nine regions on a small scale. Today Turkish quinces are grown in home gardens and through commercial producers in the Marmara, Aegean, Central Anatolia, and Black Sea Coast regions of Turkey. When in season, Turkish quinces are sold domestically in local markets and exported into Europe and Asia.
Recipes that include Turkish Quince. One is easiest, three is harder.
|Vidar Bergum||Turkish Quince Dessert (Ayva Tatlisi)|