History and Origin
Quince was reputedly one of the fruit trees in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Its first recorded arrival in Britain was around 1275, when Edward I had some Quince trees planted at the Tower of London. The fruit is native to South-west Asia, Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, northern Iran and Afghanistan. Turkey is the largest producer of Quince.
As with the Medlar, Quince producers are trying to regain some of the fruit’s past popularity. It fell out of favour due to the availability of cheap sugar and the commercial marketing of a narrowed fruit range. Quince’s ability to grow in a variety of climates works in its favour for a return to popularity. The Quince is both hardy and drought-tolerant. It has even been successfully grown in Scotland.
Ripe to Eat?
The fruit is too hard and tart to eat straight from the tree like apples. It is best left to ripen on the tree for as long as possible. It is harvested in late autumn before the first frosts. The fruit can be stored for 4-8 weeks and may even last into the new year. Thus, Quince is an ideal Advent fruit. The flesh is perfumed. The skin is a bright, golden yellow colour when ripe (as in the photographs above).
Quince is traditionally stewed, poached or baked in desserts and is often accompanied by other fruits. The pale flesh takes on a rosy pink colour when cooked. Quince is high in pectin which makes it ideal for use in jams and jellies.
Quince is generally grown in mixed fruit orchards. This deciduous tree offers a low maintenance crop by comparison with other fruit once established. It is happy in most soils. The huge advantage for gardeners is that it is self-fertile, so one quince tree is enough to produce fruit. An increased yield will result if 2 or more Quince trees are planted together. The two recommended and most popular varieties are Vranja and Champion. Quince can also be appreciated as an ornamental tree, with abundant, single large, bowl-shaped flowers.
A Lonely, Reclassified Genus
Quince, Cydonia oblonga, is the sole remaining member of the Cydonia genus in Rosaceae or the Rose Family. Originally, there were 4 other species in the genus, but taxonomists have reclassified them. The Chinese and Japanese Quinces are now classified as in Pseudocydonia and Chaenomeles respectively.
Chaenomeles japonica, Japanese or Maule’s Quince, is a thorny, deciduous shrub with apple-like flowers. It has a range of orange-red, scarlet or crimson colours. The flowers appear in early to late spring. The shrub is a popular choice for miniaturised, bonsai trees. The Japanese word bonsai translates as a plant, tree or group of trees grown in a container (bon = basin and sai = plant). It is a Japanese art that grows miniature trees in the form of mature trees. Chaenomeles is grown in the Formal Upright (Chokkan) style or Clump (Kabubuki or Kabudachi) style.
Pseudocydonia sinensis, Chinese Quince, is a deciduous or evergreen tree native to China. Some taxonomists place it in Chaenomeles. Its notable differences are its thorns and the contrasting way it bears its flowers. It is used for making jam as the European Quince. The fruit is used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Recent research has shown it to have antioxidant and antiviral properties.
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