Quince: The Fruit of Love

This sweet fruit has been adored throughout the ages

Credit: Paul Debois / GAP Photos

When fully ripe, the fruit is a beautiful deep Naples yellow in colour, swollen, and covered with a layer of golden quince dust

Adored by Aphrodite and other legendary lovers, quince is a crop like no other for the garden and kitchen

The most scandalized fruit in history is the apple – or is it? Adam and Eve’s banishment from that glorious garden of Eden resulted when Eve plucked a “golden apple of the sun” – most probably not an apple but rather a quince, says Vancouver Island resident and Rhodes Scholar John Edwards.

A taste that John describes as being “as singular as making love: nothing can take the place of the real thing (but if that is too salacious, I suggest somewhere between a sweet apple and an Anjou pear),” quinces are memorable in more ways than one (Check out some delicious quince recipes).

Romanticized throughout history, quinces were referenced by Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet, and called sparrow-apples in ancient Naples. (The sparrow was a symbol of the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, whom the Neapolitans believed was pleased with the fruit’s intoxicatingly sensual scent.)

In first-century Rome, Sextus Propertius references quince being “shaken from the boughs of trees,” presumably into nets below, as with virgin olives, says John. And Pliny the Elder waxes on about this revered fruit, which he claims originated from the island of Crete: “. . . the ‘Chrysomela’ or golden apple-quince, is distinguished by incisions and a colour almost that of gold, and by its outstanding scent.”

John is convinced that the ‘Le Bourgeot’ quince trees that he grows today on his 100-acre property, Quinceotica Farms, in Yellow Point, Vancouver Island, along with his wife Gillian, are descended from Pliny’s ‘Chrysomela’.

The Finest Quinces

While most varieties of quince are raised in hotter climes, ‘Le Bourgeot’ and ‘The Champion’ are acclimatized to B.C.’s sometimes-cold winters. If forced to choose, John recommends ‘Le Bourgeot’ as the best pick.

Pliny notes that “quinces drag down the branches of their parent trees in a curve . . .” John forgoes pruning to allow each of his 150 quince trees to form a similarly arched “umbrella” shape through the weight of their fruits, which makes them easy to pick during two frenetic weeks in late September or early October.

Quince fruit
The taste of a quince is comparable to apples
or pears (Image: Flickr / Phil & Pam)

While any fruit left on the branch even as early as mid-October will fissure and be wasted, the tree itself is very hardy.

Growing and Maintaining Quince Trees

If winter snows break or bend branches, that only makes the fruit more attainable the following summer, says John. A quince orchard endures wet feet in winter and, once established (after three or four years), should be well-watered only during B.C.’s arid late summers. John mulches twice a year with peat, naturally supplied on his property, and with manure prodigiously provided by his herd of 40 Black Angus cattle. Best of all for those gardening in deer habitats, this tree can be planted outside of protected areas.

As an orchardist, John considers quince easy to grow and resistant to pests or, “the ultimate Edenic tree . . . Once I saw our resident black bear take an exploratory bite of a ripe quince, but only one bite – he prefers the blackberries in the fall. And we recently had a tent caterpillar explosion of biblical proportions here at Yellow Point, yet the wretched creatures seem unable to feed upon quinces.”

One quince tree is enough for small gardens – unlike some fruit trees, two are not required for cross-pollination. To encourage pollination, though, gardeners are advised to grow bee-supportive plants, and erect mason-bee houses.

“Mason bees are the best, since they don’t fly much more than 100 metres from their base, and are easy to care for.” At Quinceotica, 12 beehives in the main orchard are tended by 80-year-old beekeeper Theo Fredrich, who remembers quinces growing on the coast (hometown) of the Black Sea.

Once picked, quinces can be stored for two or three months in a cool place, preferably individually. While the fruit must be peeled, quartered and parboiled prior to eating, this does not limit the range of what can be done with it, says John.

Anything you can do in the kitchen with a cooked apple or pear – pies, stews, stuffings, desserts or preserves – you can do with this golden fruit of the ancient gods . . . and the result is destined to be legendary.

Originally published in BC Home & Garden magazine. For regular updates, subscribe to our free Home and Garden e-newsletters, or purchase a subscription to the magazine.