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Thoughts from a Foreign Field

Quince for the memory

Cydonia oblonga – Quince
Cydonia oblonga – Quince

Spot the odd one out from these six:

1.Quincy Jones 

2.Quincy McDuffie

3.Thomas de Quincey

4.Peter Quince

5.Quincy ME  

6.The Quince.

Correct: only one is a fruit.

We have just harvested Quinces from a neighbour’s tree – the one that I planted is only a couple of years old and too pre-pubescent to fruit. 

Quince in meadow The Quince (Cydonia oblonga) is a rather neglected tree native to the Caucasus (Iran, Turkey,Armenia and Greece) – and should not to be confused with the ornamental Japanese Quince (Chaenomeles japonica) which is a great wall shrub with lively pink flowers. 

It used to be a stalwart in gardens across the world (they were planted in the Tower of London in the late 13th century) but has rather lapsed in popularity on your side of the Atlantic apparently due to their predisposition to fireblight. They are, however, very popular in Uraguay which is interesting because I cannot think of many other things famous for being popular in Uruguay. 

One of the peculiarities of the particular brand of English education through which I journeyed as a child was that I know really quite a lot about Greek and Roman mythology while at the same time being pretty dreadful at maths, science and other, more obviously useful subjects. Anyway, do you know the Greek myths about the Golden Apples of the Hesperides ? Hercules’ Eleventh Labour ? Or the apple that Paris gave to Aphrodite ? (which decision eventually led to ten years of Trojan War as his prize was the hand of helen, the most beautiful woman in the world. Who just happened to be married to Menelaus, King of Sarta. Big mistake). 

Well, anyway. the point is that the Apples in question were almost certainly Quinces. 

Quince BlossomThey have the most beautiful coy pink flowers in Spring followed by fruit that are about six inches long with yellow skins covered with a fine fluff. When harvested and brought into the house they are like knobbly air fresheners and can be smelt all over the house. Put one in the laundry cupboard and it will scent your towels).

They are not the easiest fruit to use: they are very hard and you can’t eat them raw unless bletted (softened to mush by frost) and even then it takes a certain courage to bite into what looks very like a rotten fruit.

The Romans stewed them with honey (and surprisingly) leeks.

In Syria it is used in lamb stew.

Isaac Newton’s favourite dish was Quince Pie.

The Afghans use the boiled seeds as a cure for pneumonia.

In Spain it is made into Membrillo – a sort of sticky paste that is delicious with cheese. (The Chileans eat it on its own in sandwiches). This is actually the main starting point for this blog post as we have just made some (I use the word “we” in its loosest sense, the skill was all my wife’s, I just did a bit of mixing and eating) which involves a lot of chopping, boiling, sieving, more boiling – combined with constant stirring, a lot of sugar and then pouring and cooling. 

They are not easy things with which to work however the result, eaten with some Manchego cheese and a sliced Russett apple was delicious. 

They also combine beautifully when poached with pears (with ice cream and a dollop of chocolate sauce) – a way of using up our vast stock of unripe, bullet hard pears.

So, if you can, plant a Quince. It tastes good, looks lovely and has the weightof myth upon its slender shoulders.

 

Just in case…

1. Quincy Jones – Music Producer who worked with Michael Jackson and Frank Sinatra

2. Quincy McDuffie – wide receiver for the Denver Broncoes. Being English I have no idea what a wide receiver does: except receive widely.

3. Thomas de Quincey – ferociously clever writer and drug addict.

4. Peter Quince – an Athenian carpenter in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.

5. Quincey M.E – 1970s television series starring Jack Klugman

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Comments

  1. user-1020932 10/18/2013

    i never knew until today that there was a Cydonia, i only knew Chaenomeles and thought that was THE quince. i'm sure i will never find one for sale or find the fruits in the market but i'm gonna search now!
    one note: Uruguay, great country,,, Punta del Este, Jose Ignacio , Montevideo is nice in it's aged, a little bit neglected, old world charm in the new world and Colonia is a step back in time!
    now off to search for Quince

  2. kterra 10/19/2013

    I have been growing Quince now for about 3 years, and like them very much. I find them easier to process (cut, core, and either freeze or cook down) if first I microwave them for a few minutes (in this case, about 3 minutes). This makes the fruit just slightly softer, and I can use my trusty oriental cleaver to halve or quarter them, and so forth.

    By the way, a Bulgarian lady I know loves to eat them fresh, as they remind her of her childhood back there. And yes, they are wonderfully fragrant. Also very tasty either alone or in a mixed fruit combination.

  3. user-1020932 10/19/2013

    well looks like i gotta find some "real" quince to grow next year

  4. MaggieMay1 11/04/2013

    I planted a quince 3 years ago, "Crimea" variety purchased from One Green World: https://www.onegreenworld.com/. It started bearing last year, heavily. Then lightly this year. I made membrillo last year for my own eating pleasure and for gifts. It was a hit, even with my Argentine friends who are very picky about food!

  5. cwheat000 11/07/2013

    I have an old big quince tree that came with my old house and I love it. We just made a quince pie. I must try membrillo. Great trivia on the quince. Tntreeman what were you doing in Uruguay? My husband and I were guessing the capital. I got it right. You confirmed it by mentioning Montevideo.

  6. Jjbrodie 11/09/2013

    I'm so excited to read this article! I grew up with a quince tree on Grandmas farm,later buying an old house with 2. Love them!! The are so beautiful in the spring. Now having moved back to the family farm , the old quince being gone many years , I'd been searching for 1 to no avail. Onegreenworld looks like a great site, never knew there were more varieties. And since we've been establishing an orchard this will be perfect. Also they were only used for preserves here because they are full of pectin.

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