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While we here at FruitStand like to consider ourselves fruit aficionados, we must admit that sometimes there’s a fruit out there so exotic it makes even us scratch our heads for a moment.
Enter the quince: Almost impossible to say; even more difficult to eat.
But trust us, either activity is well worth the effort.
No, we’re not talking quinoa – the ancient grain ironically pronounced just like the question you would ask when inquiring how to pronounce it.
And we’re not even talking quiche! (Delicious staple of brunch though it is.)
What we’re talking about is one of the world’s rarest exotic fruits – quince, which is actually pronounced something closer to kw-ince.
The piece of produce is so singular, it’s the only plant attributed to its scientific genus, Cydonia, though if we take it back a step, the fruit actually belongs to the same Rosaceae family as apples and pears.
It’s somewhat fitting, then, that the plant was known in ancient Greece as the “golden apple,” and thought so significant that it actually came to symbolize the goddess of love, beauty and passion herself, Aphrodite.
And though the fruit is barely recognized in modern times, it was once believed that it was this “golden apple,” rather than the regular red member of the Rosaceae clan, that got Eve in so much trouble in the Garden of Eden.
That old-school association may simply have to do with the climate. Quinces actually thrive in the hot, sunny weather of the Mesopotamian plain where much of the Bible took place, whereas apples tend to wither in that same type of heat.
Still, no matter where they’re grown, we must admit there just seems to be something about this hulking golden orb of a fruit.
A Bushel and a Peck
But while we’re on the subject of their cultivation, we should mention that quinces actually grow in two broad varieties:
These are the most commonly cultivated types of quince plants – mostly because they actually bear fruit.
Quince trees got their American start mostly in the well-kept gardens of well-off residents of upstate New York. At around 15 feet tall, and rocking the beautiful bright bulbs of fruit, they were used as both decorative plants and useful ones, once harvest season rolled in somewhere around September.
Bonus: The trees become highly aromatic as they begin to blossom in the fall. Sounds a whole lot more interesting to us than apple picking!
When we’re thinking aesthetics, most of us don’t typically conjure up the idea of a bush as appealing, yet these quince-bearing bushes are almost exclusively used as ornamental pieces.
That’s because, though they bear fruit, the quince are barely edible, coming in far too hard for human consumption.
The confusing nature of the plant – nowadays mostly grown in Japan and China – has earned it the nickname “false quince,” though the shrubs are also referred to as flowering quince. Proceed with caution!
How to Eat Quince
Once you’ve gotten a hold of your mysterious quince (from the tree – not the bush), there’s an even bigger puzzle to solve: How to eat it.
Even the “edible” varieties of the fruit are difficult to work with, dense, exceptionally astringent and thick-skinned. (It’s for this reason quince is a traditional ingredient in many jams, jellies and other gelatinous desserts – the plant’s impeccable structure is packed with pectin, the compound responsible for giving those jiggly desserts their distinctive texture.)
Many agree that the only way to tame this hard, woody beast is in the cooking pot. Boiling a quince in water, with a small amount of sugar, until the fruit reaches an edible texture, is the most popular – and some would say only – way to enjoy it.
Bonus: As the quince cooks through, its golden color turns into a brilliant salmon pink!
Double bonus: If you stew or poach your quince, you’ll end up with a potful of tasty quince syrup to boot!
Different Types of Quince
Quince may no longer be the dominant cultural force it once was, but believe it or not, there are several varieties of the mysterious plant grown all across the world. These most popular types of quince include:
Cooke’s Jumbo Quince
Unsurprisingly, this is one of the largest types of quince, typically used for baking and making jams, jellies and preservatives.
Still, this hulking fruit actually starts its life as one of the quince tree’s dantiest and prettiest flowers: A delicate white and pink-pedaled design.
The all-time winner of the quince flavor contest? Many enthusiasts would say so.
Champion quince is renowned for its subtle lemon-like flavor – subtlety not being one of quince’s most natural qualities. The fruit is also large and pear shaped, and rocks a fuzzy outer skin.
It’s all in the name. This cultivar indeed tastes, and even smells, a bit like pineapple, making it a fine variety of quince – and a project worth going through all the boiling trouble to eat.
Rich’s Dwarf Quince
You might think Rich’s Dwarf quince is the polar opposite of Cooke’s Jumbo variety. But like all things quince-related, the reality is much more confusing.
The cultivar is actually named for the size of the tree it grows from – which typically clocks in two-to-three feet shorter than its brethren. The fruit, on the other hand, is one of the largest types of quince. Go figure!
If there’s one thing we can say about quince, it’s that the fruit really teaches us something new every day!