About Quinces

Quincesa nd quicne jelly made by Deborah Cooke

I have a fascination with quinces and was very happy this year to acquire two quince trees for my garden. They’re very young, and just sticks at this point, but I’ll pamper them and hope for a harvest in a decade or so. It might just be one or two quinces, but they’ll be worth the wait.

You’ll notice from the picture above that the fruit is pale yellow. It’s paler inside and granular like a pear. Quinces are also as hard as rocks, even when ripe. They have to be cooked to be eaten. The scent is between a pear and an apple, but when quince is cooked, it turns pink and develops a kind of pineapple flavor. The flavor is distinct, both familiar and exotic. I think the way it turns pink is just magical.

Illustration from Codex granatensis, ca 1400, showing the quince
Illustration from Codex granatensis ca 1400 showing the quince

Quinces have been known for millennia. They originated in the Middle East and spread early to Europe. Some scholars believe that the golden apples of the Hesperides were quinces, and that the apple given by Helen of Troy to Paris was actually a quince.

The Romans mentioned quinces often in their literature. Pliny said it warded off the evil eye. Plutarch documented the ceremony of a newly married couple sharing a quince: since the quince was sacred to Venus, this was to ensure a sweet future together.

Quinces were included in the list of plants by Charlemagne (Capitulare de Villis) that should be grown on imperial estates.They were also planted at the Tower of London in 1275. In Old English, the fruit was called a coyne, which has evolved to the modern quince. Here’s an article by the Metropolitan Museum about the quinces that grow in the Cloisters Museum.

Illustration from Tacuinum Sanitatis, showing the quince
Illustration from Taciunum Sanitatis, showing the quince

Both of these medieval illustrations come from volumes that mention the benefits of quince upon the digestive system and its use in whetting the appetite.

What good are quinces? They are high in pectin and Vitamin C and make a lovely pink jelly. They have that marvelous flavor. This post of a medieval menu includes a recipe for quince cake. As mentioned, they have long been believed to aid in digestive issues. When Magellan undertook his voyage to the Pacific, they carried quince jelly for the officers, not realizing that the Vitamin C in it would ward off scurvy.

We planted our two quince trees this past weekend and I’m very excited to watch them grow.

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