Quinces aren't what one would call a staple these days. But in other parts of the world and in colonial times in this country, they were as popular as apples and pears. Related to both, the quince is a hard, yellow, firm-fleshed fruit with a perfumed flavor reminiscent of guava. Depending on the variety, quince will be round or pear shaped, yellow or light green, smooth or covered with a soft down. According to food historian Waverley Root, quinces were eaten raw as fresh fruit in Roman times but those Romans must have had strong palates, as uncooked quinces are sour and astringent. Newcomers will probably enjoy them more cooked and sweetened, in pies, cakes, compotes and other desserts. In Central Europe, North Africa and the Near East, the sour quince is often paired with poultry, pork and even seafood. Its tartness contrasts nicely with the richness of lamb or ham steaks. Unlike apples and pears, quinces hold their shape, even after protracted cooking. Quinces are low in calories and high in fiber, potassium and vitamin C. When buying quinces, look for fruits that are firm and unblemished. They store well, up to two weeks at room temperature or for several months in the refrigerator. Most recipes call for quinces to be peeled, a time consuming and, as I recently discovered, unnecessary procedure. The skin is soft and perfectly palatable both before and after cooking. Those varieties covered with a downy fur can be wiped off with a damp cloth. The flesh of the quince is hard and dry, particularly at the core. You'll need to exert more force to cut it in half and core it than you would for an apple. CHICKEN WITH QUINCES (4 servings) 4 medium quinces, about 2 pounds 1 cup apple juice 1 cup fruity white wine About 2 tablespoons honey 1/4 cup flour 1/2 teaspoon salt 3 to 3 1/2 pound chicken, cut into 8 serving pieces 2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable oil 1 teaspoon ground coriander 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest Freshly ground white pepper Quarter and core quinces and combine in a large nonaluminum saucepan with apple juice and wine. Simmer, covered, for 30 to 40 minutes, or until tender. Add honey to taste and simmer, uncovered, for about 5 minutes, or until about 1 cup of liquid remains. Then mix flour and salt; dredge chicken in mixture, shaking off excess. Heat oil in a large skillet and brown chicken pieces on all sides over medium high heat. Pour off fat. Sprinkle chicken on all sides with coriander, cinnamon, lemon zest and pepper. Pour the quince liquid over chicken and bring to a boil. Add the quinces, cover pan, and bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes, or until chicken is cooked, basting from time to time with pan juices. Correct the seasoning and serve. Per serving: 552 calories, 25 gm protein, 37 gm carbohydrates, 30 gm fat, 7 gm saturated fat, 117 mg cholesterol, 339 mg sodium. Adapted from Elizabeth Schneider's "Uncommon Fruits and Vegetables: A Common Sense Guide" (Harper & Row, 1987) BAKED STUFFED QUINCES (4 servings) 4 quinces 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature 1/3 cup sugar 1/4 cup currants 1/4 cup coarsely chopped pistachio nuts or almonds 1 teaspoon rose water 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon Core quinces from top (narrow) end, leaving bottom (stem) end intact. The idea here is to make a cavity deep enough to remove the seeds, but not so deep that it goes through the fruit. Cream butter; beat in sugar, currants, pistachio nuts, rose water and spices. Spoon mixture into quinces and place them in a small roasting pan. Recipe can be prepared up to 24 hours ahead to this stage. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 1 hour, or until soft, spooning any melted filling back over. Per serving: 286 calories, 2 gm protein, 39 gm carbohydrates, 15 gm fat, 8 gm saturated fat, 31 mg cholesterol, 122 mg sodium. QUINCE AND GINGER CAKE (12 servings) 5 tablespoons butter, at room temperature, plus extra for pan 2 medium-sized ripe quinces 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar 1 large egg 3/4 cup dark molasses 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons cake flour 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda 1 1/2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger or 3/4 teaspoons powdered ginger 1 cup buttermilk Butter sides and bottom of a 10-inch cake pan. Line bottom with a circle of parchment, then flour the sides. Cut quinces in half and core with a melon baller. Cut each into 1-inch pieces and set aside. Using paddle attachment on an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar at medium-high speed until light and smooth. Stop two or three times to scrape down the bowl and paddle. Beat in egg; scrape down again. Beat at medium-high speed, letting molasses trickle slowly into batter. Note: can also be made in a food processor. Sift together flour and baking soda. Lower speed of the mixer; beat in ginger and half the flour. Add buttermilk, followed by remaining flour. Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for about 1 hour, or until center of cake is firm to touch and an inserted skewer comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack, then invert onto a platter. Per serving: 211 calories, 2 gm protein, 38 gm carbohydrates, 6 gm fat, 3 gm saturated fat, 36 mg cholesterol, 137 mg sodium. From "The American Baker" by Jim Dodge (Simon & Schuster, 1987) Steven Raichlen is a national food writer and director of Taste of the Mountains Cooking School in New Hampshire.