The fruit of the common quince (Cydonia oblonga) is quite a piece of work; it fascinates by being never quite what you would expect:
It is a part of both our gardens and culture (think of Peter Quince, and also The Owl and the Pussy Cat) but it clearly comes from the land of warmer, longer days. It appearance is sensual and appealing, its colour is famously that of the sunset in the west of the Classical World, but this is covered by an obstructing patina of grey down and (in at least in this country) the flesh is susceptible to sites of rot and disease.
Its aroma is light, fragrant and penetrating but its raw flesh is unpalatable, the promised flavour appearing only after careful cooking. In past autumns I have hoarded quinces from many different sources. Waitrose used to stock a box or two in season. Clearly a ‘loss leader’ it helped define the image of the store for me, now the staff at the branches I have access to just shrug at the name. Like hearing a classroom language used in its native home for the first time, I always had a thrill of authenticity of seeing the tree in bloom or the fruit in local markets in southern Europe.
Best, and most recently, I was given the nod to collect the fallen fruit from a mature tree in the local park; so started the strange phenomenon of short, localised tornadoes that gently ‘shook’ the quince tree when no one was looking.
Here is a pictorial celebration of quince past as there is no fruit on the park tree this year. In fact there are no leaves either, this wet summer has left it open to the diseases that its flesh is heir to.
The quince suggest a once glamorous dowager full of interesting stories accompanied by an persistent aura of old-fashioned fragrance from Floris. Maybe, more accurately, a Continental grande dame; The Queen of Spades or Emilia Marty – The Makropoulos Case).