Quince is an under-rated fruit despite a long, illustrious history. Believed to be the forbidden fruit from the Garden of Eden, quince is one of the earliest-known fruits. It retains much of its original wild character in spite of thousands of years of cultivation; the fruit is lumpy with a sticky fuzzy coating, and unlike its cousin, the apple, it's rock hard, not sweet, and needs to be cooked rather than eaten out of hand. That said, ripe quince has a distinctive fragrance that perfumes a room beautifully, with notes of pineapple, pear, and guava. It's delicious when cooked and adds a subtle tart note to pies, chutneys, and cakes. This recipe needs to be prepared at least a day in advance of serving to allow the flavors to develop. The poached quinces can be served hot or cold.
Wash the quinces thoroughly. Remove the peels with a vegetable parer.
Combine the remaining ingredients in a pan that will hold all the quinces comfortably. Bring to a boil and add the quinces. Lower the heat and simmer until the quinces are very tender, about 45 minutes. Cooking time will vary depending on the size of the fruit.
Allow the quinces to cool in the pan, then refrigerate in the liquid, covered, at least overnight or up to 3 days.
Before serving, remove the quinces from the liquid and set aside. Reduce the poaching liquid to 1 cup over medium-high heat. Strain and discard the solids.
Carefully remove the cores from the bottom of the quinces with a small knife, if desired. Place each quince on a small plate or in a small bowl and add 1/4 cup syrup to each fruit. Serve with a garnish of sliced crystallized ginger, if desired.
Note: If you're serving the poached quinces as a hot dessert, reheat the chilled quinces in the poaching liquid until hot. Remove the fruit from the pan and set aside, covered loosely with foil. Reduce the liquid to 1 cup, then pour the hot syrup over the warm quinces.