Advantages Easy and quick to grow; attractive blossom and fruit
Disadvantages Hard to find enough uses for the crop; almost inedible raw
The quince tree in my garden has just blossomed, reminding me how pretty it can be. Not showy and exuberant like cherry blossom, but delicate, almost shy, as the individual blooms unravel from their round pink buds and emit a gentle fragrance for the few weeks that they last. In spring and autumn, in blossom and fruit, the quince is a charming tree.
The quince is native to the foothills of the Caucasian mountains, but by biblical times had already spread south-east through Persia into Asia and south-west through Anatolia to the Mediterranean. Botanically, quinces together with apples and pears form a distinct branch of the rose family (Rosaceae), though to the non-botanical eye their relationship to the rose may appear rather distant; it certainly does to mine. In this respect, though, one has to distinguish between the edible quince (Cydonia oblonga), which looks and behaves similarly to its apple and pear tree cousins, and the flowering “Japanese Quince” (Chaenomeles japonica), which is much more a shrub than a tree and sports rose-like blooms, but no fruit that can be eaten.
Origin of the species
It is Cydonia oblonga, the edible quince, with which this review is concerned. The species encompasses a number of cultivars, several of which can be successfully grown in Britain, as will be discussed below.
The prominent part played by the quince in legend and mythology has been veiled by the tendency of translators to render as ‘apple’ all archaic words for any such fruit. Thus, the bait with which the serpent supposedly ensnared Eve in the Garden of Eden may well have been a quince rather than an apple. Similarly, a lot of the fruitier references in the Song of Solomon. Any talk of “golden apples” tends to be a bit of a giveaway, since apples are not by nature golden – no, not even that modern mutant monstrosity mendaciously mis-named “Golden Delicious” when it is neither of those things – whereas ripe quinces have a 24-carat glow to them. The prize that Paris awarded Aphrodite (thus indirectly sparking off the Trojan Wars) was probably a quince, as was the fruit in the garden of Hesperides that Hercules had to purloin as one of his challenges.
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