Posted by: Footler PJ30 SEP 2009
The fragrant yellow fruit of the quince (Cydonia oblonga) seems to have fallen out of favour in recent years. The explanation could be that while the fruit from warmer regions is soft and juicy, that grown in our British climate can feel firm, astringent and gritty to the taste. Our local fruit is usually ready to pick this month but it is best eaten after cooking. Quince goes well with lamb, can be added to apple pies and is delicious steeped in vodka.
Most of us will remember quince from Edward Lear’s poem “The owl and the pussycat”, in which he wrote: “They dined on mince, and slices of quince, / Which they ate with a runcible spoon.” The rhyme may not be complete nonsense. Traditionally the Romans ate quince at wedding feasts and in some parts of the world a new bride will take a bite of a quince to add fragrance to her wedding night kisses.
The quince has an even longer history than the apple. The golden apple that Paris gave to Aphrodite, thus precipitating the Trojan war, was probably a quince. It has also been said that Eve was tempted by a quince in the Garden of Eden and not by an apple after all.
Quince probably originated in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkestan then spread to the Mediterranean and on around the world. A quince paste, “dulce de membrillo”, is still popular in Spain, Chile and Argentina.
The fruit came to Britain in the 13th century, when it was often used to make marmalade. It reached a peak in popularity during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Fortunately for my article quince also has some medicinal as well as culinary uses. In herbal medicine quince has been used as a tonic and diuretic. Smelling the ripe fruit was thought to be good for cardiovascular health and quince wine was reputed to be beneficial for asthma sufferers.
Quince has also been used as an infusion to treat diarrhoea, gonorrhea and bowel haemorrhage. The bark was employed as an astringent for ulcers and the fruits are used in Chinese medicine.
The soaked and boiled seeds release a mucilage of jelly-like consistency useful to treat sore throats. In some South American countries the same mucilage has been applied as a hair gel.