Unlike crisp, sweet apples and luscious, juicy pears, knobbly astringent quinces are the
ugly ducklings of the pome fruit family.
But don’t be deterred because just as the ugly duckling transforms into a graceful swan, something truly magical happens when you cook quinces.
Your house fills with a delightful floral aroma, astringency vanishes, and the flesh darkens to a beautiful, translucent, pinkish-red.
You’ll have seen quince paste on cheese platters – a match surely made in heaven – or you may have eaten the ruby jelly on crusty bread, but those are just two of numerous delicious uses, and you don’t have to be a magician in the kitchen to enjoy them.
In fact, anywhere you use cooked apple or pear, you can use quince in savory and sweet dishes.
You’ll love poached quince on your breakfast cereal or yogurt… in pies… in lamb stew… with ice cream… in a glaze for ham or pork… the list is endless.
I poach mine with sugar, cinnamon, star anise, and cardamom and serve them warm
with cream or custard – yum!
Quinces are also terrific ornamental plants. Their large, decorative pink or white flowers attract bees, and the trees are small enough for most suburban gardens.
Some, such as ‘De Bourgeaut,’ have enormous velvety leaves, whereas compact forms can be clipped into productive hedges.
Not only that, they have stunning autumn colors, beautiful flowers, fruit, and leaves – an all-around winner.
With so much going around for them, it’s no wonder that quinces (Cydonia oblonga) have a long history of use.
Originating in the Middle East, this small deciduous tree in the rose family has been cultivated for thousands of years. It is one of several infamous contenders as the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.
Ancient Greeks and Romans lauded quinces as far back as 600 BCE – a beautiful, scented swan to perfume temples, ward off evil, and promote fertility and happiness.
Medieval cookbooks contain more recipes for quince than for any other fruit!
How to Grow
Quinces require similar conditions to apples and pears but are tougher than both, and they don’t need a cross-pollinator nearby, although harvests do improve with one.
Cold, frosty winters are ideal, but quinces require less chilling than apples and pears and
therefore fruit further north.
They tolerate even wetter conditions than pears once established: mine thrives beside a drainage line that becomes waterlogged in winter.
Flowering is later than for apples and pears, so try quinces if your area has late frosts.
They will survive dry conditions – fruiting trees often grace roadsides and old ruins – but harvest improves with regular watering.
In arid zones, gardeners will have to irrigate. Buy bare-rooted trees in winter or potted
Quinces need full sun for best fruiting. Quinces can be as big as 5–6m high, and 4m
across but can be purchased on dwarf rootstock or kept smaller by pruning.
They prefer loamy or even heavy clay soils rather than sandy ones, so prepare the planting area with good garden loam.
Add a little well-rotted organic matter only if the soil is deficient. Apply clay slurries or bentonite to sand, and add sulfur to alkaline soils to neutralize slightly acid pH.
Add no fertilizer to the planting hole itself. Plant tree, water thoroughly with dilute seaweed
extract, and apply mulch.
Keep moist and water regularly during fruit development in dry regions.
Take off suckers that appear at the base of the trunk promptly.
Fertilize established trees with balanced organic pelletized chicken manure in late winter/early spring.
Using old manures and compost, supplement with a sprinkle of potash and a bucket of blood and bone around the dripline.
Pruning and training
Try hedging or espaliering compact varieties and those on dwarfing rootstocks. Taller cultivars such as ‘Smyrna’ and ‘Champion’ are better grown as trees but can be pruned lightly after harvest.
Remove dead, crossing, crowded, and weak branches or those taller than you want.
Heavy pruning is done when trees are dormant; my tree is currently too high to the net, so I’ll reduce its
height by two-thirds to remove this menu item from the possum all-you-can-eat buffet at Casa McKerral!
Harvest season is late summer to early winter. Wait until the fruit is fully yellow and aromatic.
Snip from the tree and handle gently; they are hard but bruise easily. Fresh fruit (particularly ‘Smyrna’ and ‘Angers’) stores well for months.
KEY TO SUCCESS
- Choose a sunny spot.
- Provide a loamy to clay soil.
- Add clay slurry or bentonite to sandy soils.
- Buy bare-rooted trees in winter and plant June–July.
- Add only a little organic matter to the planting hole and none if the soil is already rich.
- Water regularly throughout the growing season in dry regions for good fruit development.
- Fertilize with a balanced fertilizer in early spring.
- Net against pests, spray against fungal disease only if necessary.
- Prune to size and to remove overcrowded, weak, and deadwood.
Pest and disease control
CODLING MOTH: Corrugated cardboard banding, horticultural glue, pheromone lures, natural predators Trichogramma wasps.
FRUIT FLY: Sticky traps, lures.
FRUIT SPLIT: Caused by excess or uneven water in summer: water regularly and evenly.
FUNGAL DISEASES: Choose resistant varieties such as ‘De Bourgeaut,’ ‘Smyrna,’ and ‘De Vranja.’ Spray trees with copper and/or sulfur at leaf fall and just before budburst. Rake up, prune off and burn all diseased material.
PEAR AND CHERRY SLUG: Wood ash, Spinosad for severe infestations only: fruiting is unaffected by mild infestations
POSSUMS, RATS, PARROTS: Net whole tree or individual branches.
In The Kitchen
Here is an array of uses for cooked quince:
- Substitute for cooked apples or pears in any pie, pastry, or desserts, such as tart tartin, flan, or trifle.
- Top pudding, yogurt, cereal, waffles, custard.
- Make jams, jellies, and pastes.
- Combine with apples or pears when making cider.
- Puree, sieve, and combine with apple juice, mustard, seasoning, and honey for ham,
- Chicken or pork glaze, gravy, or sauce.
- Add to stews and tagines with gamey meat, lamb, or pork.