The Quince Years.

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.

Quince's grey down.

Quince’s grey down. Swansea harvest 2007. Photo: Mr. Edible.

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.

Ohrid Market, Macedonia, 2009. Photo: Mr. Edible.

Ohrid Market, Macedonia, 2009. Photo: Mr. Edible.

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 most immaculate Swansea crop, 2010. The golden apples of the Welsh Hesperides!

The most immaculate Swansea crop, 2010. The golden apples of the Welsh Hesperides! Photo: Mr. Edible.

A large quince tree in flower, Thassos, Greece. Photo: Mr. Edible.

A large quince tree  in flower, Thassos, Greece. Photo: Mr. Edible.

Quince at the Chelsea Physic Garden, London.

Quince at the Chelsea Physic Garden, 2008, London. Photo: Mr. Edible.

Consolation of the quince-less years: quince vodka 2011. Photo: Mr. Edible.

Quince Vodka and quince jelly.

Quince vodka and quince jelly. Another contradiction quince flesh is amber, cooked it is crimson. Photo: Mr. Edible.

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).

Quinces; Swansea foraged 2008.
Quinces; Swansea foraged 2008.  Photo: Mr. Edible.
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8 thoughts on “The Quince Years.

  1. I have an annual medlar jelly habit, although last year I made a sort of confectionery with what was available. I ”scrumpy’ from parks and collect from friends – I call it our ‘fruit co-operative’ but it isn’t that big. I’ll have to look out for you at markets/Salix – Gower Wildflowers; a favourite haunt. I write things for Herbs magazine, where I’m interest in the history of plant medicine/medical botany etc.

    http://plantsandpeople.weebly.com/

  2. Why limit yourself to Cydonia Quince? The Japanese Quince (Chaenomeles japonica) also allows for great eating after preparation; it has the added bonus of being a profuse fruiter in our recently poor climate. Furthermore, they are ubiquitous in Swansea.

    • Thanks for the tip, people have mentioned this before and I will have to give it a go, avoiding the thorns as I harvest them! Sometime soon I should be picking medlars from a local park.

      • Did you pick medlars from the park last year? I normally pick them to make medlar cheese, though last year there was a much smaller crop than usual.

        Sea buckthorn makes a great jam though it needs to be cut with crab apple to help set and take away some of the astringency. Check my Facebook page, The Secret Ingredient (Swansea). I think you may enjoy it as a fellow food lover.

  3. Especially enjoyed the “short, localised tornadoes that gently ‘shook’ the quince tree when no one was looking.” Nice touch.

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