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(Species: Cydonia oblonga - Family: Rosaceae)
Quince and its origins
The quince is a deciduous fruit tree that has aromatic, golden-coloured edible fruits. It is native to South-West Asia and is widely grown in the Middle East and the Mediterranean.
It is believed that the quince tree was probably imported from Western Asia to Chania on the island of Crete but a more elaborate version of its origins is that it came from the Levant with Aphrodite, and hence symbolised love to the ancient Greeks. Young newly-weds would be given quince before their wedding night, to perfume their kisses.
There are many references to this fruit in the bible, such as in the Song of Solomon, which may have been referring to the quince.
In the UK, quinces were first recorded in the late 13th century, when they were planted at the Tower of London.
Quince is a medium-sized tree with pretty early summer blossom of single, bowl-shaped white or pale pink flowers, dark green leathery leaves and attractive grey bark.
The fruits which follow are pear-shaped, about 15cm long, golden-yellow in colour and highly aromatic. This fruit tree can reach 5 metres in both height and spread, but they can be bought as grafted plants on semi-dwarfing or dwarfing rootstocks that keep them more compact.
Two outstanding varieties of quince for flavour and performance are Vranja and Champion.
How to plant: Quince
Quince trees are low-maintenance and easy to grow successfully, but do need a moist, fertile soil even in summer. It is important to grow them in soil that will not become waterlogged in winter, so needs to be well-drained.
You will need to water, even the most established tree, in periods of drought; mulch in mid-spring using well-rotted manure or compost and this will help keep roots moist too. It will also benefit from a high-potash XXXXX feed in late winter to boost the crop and ripen the fruits. Quinces are self-fertile so only one tree is needed to produce fruits.
Plant any time from late autumn to early spring, in a warm, sunny and sheltered site, because the blossom is vulnerable to frost and the fruits need sun to ripen.
Prune quince trees in early winter. In the first few years, aim to create well-spaced branches with an open centre and a clear stem. Once the framework is established, simply remove dead and unproductive growth every winter.
To harvest, leave the fruits on the tree for as long as possible before the threat of frost arrives, to ripen fully. Quinces store well and their flavour benefits from a period of storage in a cool, dark place for several weeks. As they are so aromatic, they can taint other fruits, so store separately. Cook before eating.
Propagation of Quince
The easiest method of propagation is to take hardwood quince cuttings in early winter. Choose healthy shoots from the current year, and remove the soft growth at the tip.
Cut into pieces between 15-30cm and make a straight cut at the base, just below a leaf joint. At the top, make a sloping cut to remind you which is the top end of the fruit tree cutting. Space the new cuttings in a prepared trench in garden soil, about 15cm apart.
Fill with soil and firm the soil around the cuttings with your feet. Mulch to deter weeds. The following autumn, allowing for a few failures, you should have some well-rooted bushy plants ready to plant.
Did you know?
The Portuguese name for quince is 'marmelo', which is where the English word marmalade comes from.
Dulce de membrillo, quince paste, is a Spanish speciality and quince jelly is part of British culinary history.