As the local fall crops begin to arrive at weekly farmers markets, it's time to gear up for a new round of fresh produce to enjoy for the season. From persimmons, pomegranates and winter squash to an array of hearty greens, such as kale and bunches of rainbow chard, there are quite a few ingredients to work with this time of year. One of them, available only October through December, is quince, which you're probably less familiar with. At first glance, this member of the apple and pear family may resemble a cross between the two. But if you've ever tried to bite into one, you likely discovered a much different flavor. Cultivated for more than 4,000 years in Asia and the Mediterranean, quince serves its major function when cooked, where it takes on flavors similar to its relatives. Its acidity and astringent properties are too intense to be enjoyed raw, which is why the quince is mostly used in preserves, pies and sauces.

When selecting a quince at the market, ask the farmer to assist you. The quince varies in shape and size, but resembles what you may expect if a pear and apple were spliced together. When purchased fresh, it has a green to yellow skin that turns more yellow when ripe. It will, however, remain firm, so do not expect it to soften (if it does, discard). Any brown spotting on the outside is completely normal, and will not affect the flavor. Once home, the quince should be stored at room temperature on the counter until ripe. It can then be refrigerated, lasting two weeks or more.

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