The quest for quince

One of my sources for ideas on what varieties to plant is a friend with relatives in England who have an orchard, and several of her favorites from there have made it into mine. While discussing future plantings last year, she recalled they had a quince tree and that she liked quince. Some of my friends in Germany have a neighbor with a quince tree, and when I have visited them my favorite thing on the breakfast table was a jar of their homemade quince jam. Since we both had positive thoughts about it, I looked into purchasing a quince tree.

The search for a quince tree was memorable in that it seemed to take hours to find any suitable information about growing them in the US, and even longer to find a US nursery selling them for fall planting. Quince appear to be popular in England and Europe, but are nearly forgotten about in the US. For someone with an orchard of antique apples, such a misfit fruit seemed an ideal addition.

Further research identified that the quince was not always a minor player in the US fruit scene. In the early 1900’s quince appears to have been popular in household orchards and an important, if not major, part of the commercial fruit industry. The arrival of the Oriental Fruit Moth (Grapholitha Molesta) and the relative lack of success of control methods available at that time for quince trees led to the decline of the quince industry by the mid 1930’s. In July 1936 the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, NY published Bulletin 669 “Oriental Fruit Moth Control in Quince Plantings” in which it is stated that “Quince fruits in western New York are, generally speaking about 100 per cent infested by this pest.”

Even had the Oriental Fruit Moth not taken a liking to quince, I find it doubtful that it would have survived economically in the modern marketplace. Quince needs a frost before harvest to be at it’s best, and even then it benefits from several days or weeks of room temperature storage prior to eating. The fruit has an incredibly strong and unique aroma which fills rooms where it is stored. Although the smell is fairly pleasant the uniqueness is a bit of a problem, as it smells so good that many cleaning products have tried to duplicate its scent and rather than a room smelling pleasantly of fruit, the end effect is it smells like someone has spilled a bottle of household cleaner. Quince is also a very hard fruit and, without cooking, a slice has the texture of damp cardstock and even less flavor.

When roasted for a couple of hours in a slow oven, however, the initial problems of the quince are soon forgotten in a soft, fragrant, and somewhat spicy pulp. In Portugal quince is cooked slowly until it becomes a thick paste known as marmalade – the name of which was then borrowed by many other languages as a general term for thick jam.

I will admit to being a fairly uninformed customer when I purchased my quince trees. My selection criteria was that I had space for two trees, I wanted two varieties with compatible bloom times for cross-pollination, and they needed to be hardy enough to withstand Indiana winters. The varieties with the inspired names of “Orange” and “Pineapple” were recommended and ordered.

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