Introduction and description
The quince (Cydonia oblonga) is the sole member of the genus Cydonia in the family Rosaceae (which also contains apples and pears, among other fruits).
It is a small deciduous tree that bears a pome fruit, similar in appearance to a pear, and bright golden-yellow when mature.
Throughout history the cooked fruit has been used as food, and the tree is also grown for its attractive pale pink blossom and other ornamental qualities.
The fruit also has considerable medicinal value, this can be seen from the observations at the end of this section.
It should not be confused with its relatives, the Chinese Quince, Pseudocydonia sinensis, or the Flowering Quinces of genus Chaenomeles. Chinese quince is used medicinally but has different properties. The Flowering quinces do have a fruit, but they are barely edible.
The tree grows 5 to 8 metres (16 and a half feet to 26 feet) high and 4 to 6 metres (13 feet to 19 and a half feet) wide.
The fruit is 7 to 12 centimetres (3 to 5 inches) long and 6 to 9 centimetres (2 to 3 and a half inches) across. The immature fruit is green with dense grey-white pubescence, most of which rubs off before maturity in late autumn when the fruit changes colour to yellow with hard, strongly perfumed flesh.
The leaves are alternately arranged, simple, 6–11 cm (2–4 in) long, with an entire margin and densely pubescent with fine white hairs.
The flowers, produced in spring after the leaves, are white or pink, 5 cm (2 in) across, with five petals.
It is native to rocky slopes and woodland margins in South-west Asia, Turkey and Iran although it can be grown successfully at latitudes as far north as Scotland.
The quince tree is native to Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Iran, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Pakistan, Kashmir, Afghanistan and was introduced to Poland, Syria, Lebanon, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Turkey, Serbia, Republic of Macedonia, Albania, Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Hungary, Ukraine, Moldova, and Bulgaria.
Commercially Turkey is now the largest producer, with China, Uzbekistan, Morocco and Iran, Argentina, Azerbaijan, Spain and Serbia also producing significant crops
Quinces were introduced in the 18th-century to New England, but it has become rare in North America due to its susceptibility to fireblight disease caused by the bacterium Erwinia amylovora. Charlemagne also directed that quinces be planted in his well-stocked orchards. Quinces in England are first recorded in about 1275, when Edward I had some planted at the Tower of London.
Quince was also introduced to the New World, Australia and New Zealand, where in some locations it now grows wild. It is still widely grown in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay.
The fruit was known to the Akkadians, who called it supurgillu; Arabic سفرجل al safarjal "quinces" (collective plural). The modern name originated in the 14th century as a plural of quoyn, via Old French cooin from Latin cotoneum malum / cydonium malum, ultimately from Greek κυδώνιον μῆλον, kydonion melon "Kydonian apple".
Cultivation of quince may have preceded apple culture, and many references translated to "apple", such as the fruit in Song of Songs, may have been a quince.
Among the ancient Greeks, the quince was a ritual offering at weddings, for it had come from the Levant with Aphrodite and remained sacred to her.
Plutarch reported that a Greek bride would nibble a quince to perfume her kiss before entering the bridal chamber, ""in order that the first greeting may not be disagreeable nor unpleasant" (Roman Questions 3.65). It was with a quince that Paris awarded Aphrodite. It was for a golden quince that Atalanta paused in her race.
The Romans also used quinces; the Roman cookbook of Apicius gives recipes for stewing quince with honey, and “even combining them, unexpectedly, with leeks”. Pliny the Elder mentioned the one variety, Mulvian quince, that could be eaten raw. Columella mentioned three, one of which, the "golden apple" may have been the paradisal fruit in the Garden of the Hesperides.
Quince is resistant to frost and requires a cold period below 7 °C to flower properly. The tree is self-fertile; however, its yield can benefit from cross-fertilization. The fruit can be left on the tree to ripen further, which softens the fruit to the point where it can be eaten raw in warmer climates, but should be picked before the first frosts.
In Europe, quinces are commonly grown in central and southern areas where the summers are sufficiently hot for the fruit to fully ripen. They are not grown in large amounts; typically one or two quince trees are grown in a mixed orchard with several apples and other fruit trees.
The cultivar 'Vranja' Nenadovic has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.
There is a temptation to leave Quinces in a bowl on the kitchen table, their soft roses ’n’ honey scent getting more pronounced as the room warms. But no – every quince needs cooking, where its impenetrable flesh will soften almost to jelly and turn the colour of a winter sunset. This is, after all, probably one of the few fruits you truly cannot eat raw.
I have braised them with lamb, adding honey, fresh ginger and saffron; roasted them with pork and marsala and baked them at a leisurely pace, basting the halves of fruit as they roasted with butter, lemon and sugar. Once I tried to capture their fragrance in an ice – and failed.
Once it has been baked or poached, the flesh becomes soft and almost Turkish delight-like. A quince in this state will benefit from a crisp crust. Best so far has been a crumble, rough as pebbledash, where I tossed together flour, butter, almonds and breadcrumbs and sweetened it with light, butterscotch-scented muscovado.
The effect of a single quince in an apple pie, which introduces a delicious hint of perfume to the filling, is well known, but it is worth cooking the quince for a little while first, as its rock-hard flesh takes longer to submit to the heat of the oven than any apple.
We grow them in the UK, but many are imported from Turkey and Iran and appear here in late autumn – the harvest is in October – to early spring, and then they vanish. This week I stewed a couple of them slowly with sugar and lemon, then tucked roughly torn pieces of panettone among them to give a warming winter pudding. And then I poached some more, to have for breakfast with yogurt, and to eat later with blue cheese – an almost molten gorgonzola.
If I had a box of fruits appear on my doorstep, I would certainly have a go at making quince jelly to eat with cheese. And I wouldn’t stop at the firm Spanish cheeses that this slightly gritty amber spread traditionally accompanies. The sweet paste shines with goat’s cheeses and blues alike. I like the idea of making a tiny parcel of blue cheese, wrapping it in pastry and serving it with membrillo, as quince paste is known, on the side.
As a culinary marriage, it sits alongside our own of a wedge of Wensleydale with a slice of fruitcake or the rare and wonderful combination (at least in my neck of the woods) of Lancashire cheese and eccles cake.
Though it is of the same family, a peeled or sliced quince will brown quicker than any apple or pear. A brushing of lemon juice will not only slow up the inevitable, but actually has something to offer in terms of flavour. Lemon, along with clove, cinnamon, maple syrup and honey, is a delightful note to bring to this fruit.
Nigel Slater’s Poached quince and gorgonzola cream
Put the sugar into a saucepan, add 750ml of water and bring to the boil.
Peel the quinces then cut them in half from tip to base. Lower the quince halves into the syrup, add the lemon, cut in half then add to the pan. Turn the heat down so the quinces simmer gently. Partially cover with a lid and leave to cook, testing occasionally for tenderness with the point of a skewer.
The quinces must be thoroughly tender before being removed from the syrup. Remove the quince halves with a draining spoon, reserving a little of the syrup for moistening the fruit as you serve it. Keep the rest, refrigerated, for poaching other fruits. (Lightly perfumed, it will work for both apples and pears.) Set the quinces aside to cool.
Pour the cream into a small bowl and whisk gently till it just starts to thicken. Spoon the gorgonzola into the whipped cream and stir to mix and thicken.
Place half a quince on each of 4 plates, spoon a little syrup over, then add a generous mound of the gorgonzola cream.
The option exists to stop at the point marked ** in the method and simply bottle or place the resulting paste into a mould ready for use. The further drying out produces a much stiffer mixture.
1.8kg/4lbs quinces, washed, peeled, cored, chopped
vanilla pod, split
caster sugar, amount determined during cooking
Place the quince pieces into a large pan and add enough water to cover. Add the vanilla pod and bring to the boil. Place a lid on the pan and boil for 30-40 minutes, or until quinces are very soft.
Drain the liquid from the quinces and transfer the quinces to a scale to weigh. Note the weight of the quinces - this is the weight of caster sugar you will require.
Place the fruit into a food processor and blend until very smooth.
Return to the original pan and add an equal weight of sugar.
Cook over a low heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves.
Continue to cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, for 1-1½ hours, or until the quince paste has thickened and has a deep orange colour. **
Preheat the oven to 50C/120F.
Pour the cooked paste out onto a greased and lined 20cm/8in x 20cm/8in baking tray and smooth the paste out evenly.
Place into the oven for one hour to speed up the setting process.
Remove from the oven and slice into manageable portions.
Scallops with pear and quince chutney
For the chutney
1 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves
1 onion, roughly chopped
6 allspice berries
1 tsp curry powder [optional]
150g/6oz caster sugar
150ml/0.25pt white wine vinegar
454g/1lb quince, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
454g/1lb pears, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
454g/1lb tomatoes, blanched, peeled, deseeded and roughly chopped
1 tbsp each of roughly chopped coriander and parsley
For the scallops
20 medium scallops, cleaned
10 strips pancetta, halved widthways
4 rosemary stems, leaves removed, leaving a tuft at the top
2 tbsp olive oil
Heat the oil in a large pan and gently sauté the garlic and onion for 2-3 minutes until softened.
Stir the allspice and curry powder through and toast for 1 minute. Add the sugar and gently heat until caramelised.
Deglaze the pan with the white wine vinegar and reduce for 1-2 minutes.
Add the prepared quince and pear and cook down gently for 6-8 minutes until softened but still chunky. Leave to cool and then stir the tomatoes and herbs through gently. Season to taste.
In the meantime, prepare the scallops. Wrap a piece of panchetta around each of the scallops and skewer five onto each rosemary stick securely. Drizzle the oil over and griddle in a heated pan for 2-3 minutes each side until cooked through.
To serve, spoon the chutney down the centre of each serving plate and sit the scollop skewer on top.
Rose Prince's comforting winter recipes - Quince and celery soup
5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 leek, white part only, sliced
4 sticks of celery, de-stringed with a peeler then chopped
2 medium floury potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 quinces, peeled, cored and finely chopped
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock
300ml single cream or whole-milk yogurt
Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the onion, garlic, leek and celery.
Cook over a medium heat until soft.
Add the potato and quince, cook for about three minutes more, then add the stock.
Bring to the boil, then simmer for about 10 minutes, until the potato and quince are soft.
Add the cream and liquidise.
Season to taste.
Spiced poached quince and pork
400ml/14fl oz white wine
150g/5½oz caster sugar, plus extra for the quince pieces
3 tbsp lemon juice
1 vanilla pod, cut and seeds scraped out
2 star anise
3 green cardamom pods
6 all spice berries
10 juniper berries, lightly crushed
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
5 strips orange zest
4-5 quinces, flesh cut into chunks, cores discarded
The quinces can be served with big fat all pork sausages, with wild boar or with belly pork roasted until the skin is crackly and crunchy. Kale – plain boiled - goes well with this dish.
Place all ingredients except the quince in a pan. Add 500ml/18fl oz of water, bring to the boil, then simmer for 15 mins.
Add the quince and simmer for a further 15 minutes until quince is soft, but not mushy. Then strain, reserving the cooking liquid.
Take half the quince pieces and put in a blender. Add enough cooking liquid to cover and blend to a smooth, thick purée (add some more cooking liquid if necessary)
Toss the remaining quince pieces in caster sugar and cook in a hot frying pan until caramelised.
To serve, pour the warm purée onto a serving plate and arrange the caramelised quince pieces around the plate.
The term "marmalade", originally meaning a quince jam, derives from "marmelo," the Portuguese word for this fruit.
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