I’ve never done anything but dream. This, and this alone, has been the meaning of my life. My only real concern has been my inner life. FERNANDO PESSOA

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Quince

When a baby is born in Slavonia and Croatia, a quince tree is planted as a symbol of fertility, love and life. WIKIPEDIA

Quince

In my poem raining quinces, the quince is meant to stand for something luscious and exotic. However, I've been vaguely concerned that the celebrated tartness of the raw fruit ran counter to my symbolic intention. So I've been doing a little research - and, thankfully, I needn't have worried. The quince is as romantically exotic as a fruit can ever be. And, although most varieties are astringent, some sweeter varieties have now been developed which can be eaten in their raw, uncooked state.

The quince, or Cydonia oblonga, is the only member of the genus Cydonia, though there are four other species belonging to separate genera - one from China and three from eastern Asia - which are closely related. It's a small, deciduous tree, growing from 5 to 8 metres tall. The flowers are pink or white, with five petals, and the fruit changes from green to a lemony yellow as it ripens. The flesh of the ripened fruit is known for its strong perfume. It's a native of the Caucasus region of south-west Asia - home to the Caucasus Mountains and Mount Elbrus, Europe's highest peak.

The Caucasus

Aphrodite
Quince cultivation is very old, and probably predated the cultivation of apples and pears - to which the quince is related. In fact, the word 'apple' in many ancient texts, including the Bible's Song Of Solomon, may often have been wrongly translated - and should be 'quince'.


References to the quince abound in Greek and Roman mythology as a symbol of love and desire or a symbol of paradise. It's the sacred fruit of Aphrodite, goddess of sex, love and beauty. It was the 'golden apple' in the Garden of the Hesperides, the mythical Greek paradise - giving its name to the Italian word for tomato, pomodoro. It was a ritual offering at weddings in Ancient Greece. And, on her wedding night, a Greek bride would eat a quince to perfume her breath before kissing her new husband - rather like we might suck on a mint today (sorry to be so unromantic!)

On the French and Spanish Caminos you're never far from a quince jelly or jam (quince is coing in French and membrillo in Spanish). Quinces are also used to make cordials, teas, wines, brandies and liqueurs. In Spain I often enjoyed dulce de membrillo, a delicious quince jelly traditionally eaten with manchego cheese.

The Golden Apple

They dined on mince, and slices of quince, / Which they ate with a runcible spoon; / And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand, / They danced by the light of the moon. EDWARD LEAR

(All images from Wikimedia Commons)

9 comments:

George said...

Very interesting, and thanks for your research. I'm looking forward to the dulce de membrillo with manchego. Sounds terrific!

Susan Scheid said...

I remember your poem lauding quince the first time, and right you are. All hail the quince!

The Weaver of Grass said...

In rural Turkey they plant a row of poplar trees when a boy is born and then cut them down and sell the wood in time for his adulthood. Not quite sure what this has to do with the quince but suddenly thought of it.

Sabine said...

Thank you for all this intersiting research and the poem. My granny had three quince trees in her garden and I grew up with quince jelly and what my mother called "qince bread" which is sort of very chewy quince caramel and we were only allowed tiny bits on special occasions.
Today, all we have is one of these ornamental quince bushes with lovely blossom and inedible fruitlings. We have tried in vain to find a decent quince tree to grow in our garden. Not popular anymore, we are told.

Goat said...

I've only eaten quince once or twice in my life. I remember buying one years ago and stewing it up. They grow alright in the cooler southern regions of Australia and I've seen the odd abandoned tree down there, but they're unfortunately considered a bit of a relic, something your grandmother would remember.

Hopefully your post will spark a quince renaissance!

KleinsteMotte said...

The tomato did not enter Italy till the 1600's so it's odd that it was named after a golden apple but your quince info is fascinating. I have eaten them but they are not a hit. I prefer pomegranates.

Grace said...

You just reminded me that I'm all out of quince jelly:( My quince tree is not doing very well (it might not be the edible kind though) and now I'm wondering about the symbolic significance of that!

Ruth said...

I'm a little ashamed to say that I have never eaten quince in any form, but I'm happy to hear that you are relieved of your anxieties over misrepresenting the fruit's symbolism. I have long adored the color of the blossoms, the ones that are like the color of tangerines. The jelly with manchego sounds incredible; cheese with jelly on it was my snack of choice in college, and now manchego is one of my favorites.

And I've always loved those lines you ended with, which seem so fitting for you, Dr. Seuss and Mr. Thomas.

The Solitary Walker said...

George - thanks and enjoy...

Susan - quince lovers unite!

Pat - thanks for bringing this custom to our attention...

Sabine - yes, I like the idea of quince bread, and have read about it. Like the fact it's eaten on special occasions...

Goat - those grannies knew a thing or two!

KleinsteMotte - ah, pomegranates! Now you're talking...

Grace - pummel and stew and sweeten those fruits into submission! You know it makes sense...

Ruth - mmm... and not forgetting Mr. Lawrence, and his sensual and suggestive poems about fruit and flowers? (see the one about figs...)