The Quince Cydonia oblonga, the sole member of the genus Cydonia, is a small to medium size tree native to warm-temperate southwest Asia in the Caucasus region. It is a fruit tree related to apples and pears, and like them has a pome fruit, which is bright golden yellow when mature, pear-shaped, 7-12 cm long and 6-9 cm broad; the fruit flesh is hard, and strongly perfumed. The immature fruit are green, with dense grey-white pubescence which mostly (but not all) rubs off before maturity. The leaves are alternately arranged, simple, 6-11 cm 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 across, with five petals.
Quinces are too hard, astringent and sour to eat raw unless 'bletted' (softened by frost). They are used to make jam, jelly and quince pudding, or they may be peeled, then roasted. The very strong perfume means they can be added in small quantities to apple pies and jam to enhance the flavour. The term "marmalade", originally meaning a quince jam, derives from the Portuguese word for this fruit marmelo. The fruit, like so many others, can be used to make a type of wine. In Spain, a quince paste-like jelly called "membrillo" is put on cheese.
Cultivation of quince may have preceded apple culture, and the "apple" in the Song of Solomon 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 reports 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 a quince that Paris awarded Aphrodite. It was for a golden quince that Atalanta paused in her race. The best kind of quince came from the region of Cydonia on the northwest coast of Crete, the fruit becoming known to the Greeks as Mela Kudonia or "Cydonian apple", whence also the scientific name of the genus. The Romans also used quinces; the Roman cookbook of Apicius gives recipes for stewing quince with honey, and even combining them, unexpectedly for us, with leeks. Pliny mentioned the one variety, Mulvian quince, that could be eaten raw. Columella mentioned three, one of which, the "golden apple" that may have been the paradisal fruit in the Garden of the Hesperides, has donated its name in Italian to the tomato, pomodoro.
Elsewhere 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. Charlemagne directed that quinces be planted in well-stocked orchards. Quinces are mentioned for the first time in an English text in the later 13th century, though cultivation in England is not very successful due to inadequate summer heat to ripen the fruit fully. They were also introduced to the New World, but have become rare in North America due to their susceptibility to fireblight disease caused by the bacterium Erwinia amylovora. They are still widely grown in Argentina and Uruguay. Almost all the quinces in North American specialty markets come from Argentina.
The quince, used as a stock, has the property of stunting the growth of pears, of forcing them to produce bearing branches, instead of sterile ones, and of accelerating the maturity of the fruit.
Four other species previously included in Cydonia are now treated in separate genera. These are the Chinese Quince Pseudocydonia sinensis, a native of China, and the three flowering quinces of east Asia in the genus Chaenomeles.
- Cornell article (http://www.hort.cornell.edu/extension/commercial/fruit/mfruit/quince.html)
- University of Georgia article (http://www.uga.edu/fruit/quince.htm)
- Quince Marmalade Recipe (http://www.bartleby.com/87/r1813.html)
- Quince History (http://www.vegparadise.com/highestperch51.html)