It’s always exciting to cook with an ingredient for the first time. With all the interesting seasonal produce that can be found, this will surely never end. Food surprises are one of the main draws of joining a CSA for me, too: you never really know what you’re going to get in a given week. Last week, my fruit share from Red Jacket Orchards included quince. Only I thought they were Bartlett pears at first, and then, more outrageously, kumquats.
Clearly, I’m still figuring out what kind of fruit I’m cooking with here. But my first stab at it was a sweet success. Instead of filling the middle of cookies with jam, cradled in a thumbprint, I draped simple syrup-blanched quince slices over each cookie dough dollop. Quince, you see, are much more dry and tart than most fruit it resembles (or doesn’t resemble at all, in the case of kumquats). They’re not considered very good for eating raw. But once cooked, they’re lemony and light-tasting, sort of like a fresh pear with lemon zest.
When I saw the crate of quince at my CSA pick-up, I thought the pale-green, if oddly misshapen fruits must be pears of some sort. Quince, our CSA coordinator, Wen-Jay told me. They had to be cooked before being eaten, we discussed, and noted the downy fuzz on their skins. Alright then, quince they were. But for some reason, I got the word “kumquats” stuck in my head. And the next time I saw Wen-Jay, on my Heritage Radio Network show, I proudly pulled a bag of the cookies I’d baked that morning, with the kumquats from my share. Quince! she had to correct me again. This wouldn’t have been so bad if we weren’t talking on live radio then. Also, kumquats are citrus fruits, and have nothing to do with quince except that they’re both foods I have little concept of. (Also, I keep typing “kumquats” instead of “quince” in this post.)
I’m not sure what this mental block is all about. But I will say, do not be deterred in the kitchen by unfamiliar foods! By tasting as you cook, and starting out with tried-and-true techniques, I can’t see why anything wouldn’t work out in the end.
The dough I’ve used here is for a basic, buttery sugar drop cookie, which plumped up around the quince slices in the oven as they baked. These cookies might benefit, appearance-wise, from a sprinkle of sugar before going into the oven, for a sparkly effect. In any case, they still taste quite good.
So good even, I may have to give kumquats a try at this next.
(makes about 20)
1 cup all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup sugar plus about 1/4 cup for simple syrup
1/4 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
about half a quince, sliced into thin wedges
Cream the butter with 1/3 cup sugar and vanilla. Beat in the eggs and milk. Combine the flour, salt and baking powder and gradually stir into the butter mixture until smooth.
Combine the 1/4 cup sugar with 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan. Heat until dissolved, stirring. Add the quince slices and gently toss to coat thoroughly for about 1 minute. Drain.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. On a greased baking sheet, drop a spoonful of dough about 2 inches apart. Top each with a couple slices of the quince. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until lightly golden at the edges. Cool on a rack a few minutes before serving.
(for 20 cookies)
1/2 quince (from CSA share at $10/week): $0.30
1 cup flour: $0.35
6 tablespoons butter: $0.75
2 eggs: $0.50
1/4 cup milk: $0.20
1/3 plus 1/4 cup sugar: $0.30
salt, baking powder, vanilla: $0.25
Seven brownie points: They’re cookies, so you can’t give yourself a pat on the back for succumbing to a sweet treat. I tried to minimize and use only ingredients that were essential in this recipe, and include some fresh fruit. The results may not be decadent, but it hits the spot. After all, you’re going to be eating more than your share since you’ve baked them, correct?
Eight maple leaves: This is the real reason I made these cookies, to use a seasonal fruit from my CSA. Who knew that something exotic like this could be grown in New York State? Well, farms that pride themselves on growing unique varieties in their soil. If farmers can try growing stuff that’s seldom or never-before done in their region, it should give us plenty of courage to cook with it. The rest of the ingredients in these cookies were foraged locally, too, like the butter, milk, flour and eggs (from my rooftop coop).