Human Flower Project

Slow Down for Quince

Two fruity and flowery shrubs (at least) go by this name, both of them fine enough to give anybody pause.


Flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa), thriving in Berkeley, California

Photo (detail): Georgia Silvera Seamans

Screech! Blossoms of flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa) will detain any errand. Blooming early, usually on shiny black twigs, they are defiant.

Especially so in the city, where deflecting human fixation is more challenging. Everybody’s so busy, dead-set to get where they’re going. Georgia Silvera Seamans of Local Ecology sent us pictures of her neighborhood quinces in Berkeley, California, and writes about their impact in her intensely focussed city. She also reflects on a recent visit to Spain: “In Madrid we ate quince jelly (dulce de membrillo) with cheese (queso) at tapas bars.” Just that thought is pause-worthy.

The classic detainer of the Mediterranean region is not Chaenomeles (native to China), though, but Cydonia oblonga. Its “fuzzy, yellow, apple-sized, somewhat edible fruits” were most likely the ingredient in Georgia’s Spanish maremelade. The blooms look more like apple flowers, too, not so colorful as “flowering quince” but very, very lovely.

imageEve, by Lucas Cranach

Image: Galleria Uffizi

Did you catch that “somewhat’ edible? Cyndonia oblonga (quince) may look like a pear, but it’s sour enough to make you cringe. Only a lot of sugar and cooking can make it really palatable. See how Andrea at Heavy Petal  has been doing just that. (By the way, Chaenomeles also has sour fruit, and can be made palatable; Georgia says so!). But humans do not live by marmelade alone. The plump golden green of Cyndonia oblonga is decidedly alluring.

We remembered The Owl and the Pussycat:

They dined on mince, and slices of quince,

  Which they ate with a runcible spoon…

Runcible spoon or chop sticks, quince seems to be if not an outright aphrodisiac then romance food. The fruit was an attribute of Aphrodite, whose demands have a way of bringing all business to a halt. Ancient newlyweds were said to nibble on quinces before entering their bridal chambers. So, perhaps, did Eve. Painter Lucas Cranach and others allege that the original sin was eating not an apple, but a quince. Eve may have been fallen, but her breath was delightful!

Mythology’s most legendary Cydonia oblonga, however, belonged to Atalanta, the dashing beauty who outran all of her admirers. After their defeat, her suitors would be put to death right there at trackside. Hippomenes had the foresight to slow his sweetheart down. He prayed to Aphrodite for help, and she gave him three quinces to bowl across Atalanta’s path during the deciding race. Who could resist them? The undefeated sprinter reached down to gather each fruit, and in doing so gave Hippomenes time to catch up, then to win.


The Race for Atalanta, by David Spear

Has anyone on Barack Obama’s staff considered quinces?

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01/31 at 03:34 PM


Those are beautifully-coloured blossoms. Quince have quite the history - I enjoyed the story of Hippomenes and Atalanta.

Posted by kate on 01/31 at 09:23 PM

Quince is a superb fruit, once, that is, it has been cooked. Impossible to eat raw. I need a very sturdy knife, and can sometimes have to whack the back of the knife with a wooden mallet to start cutting the quince apart.

Marvelous for a fruit tart, especially in combination with apple or pear.

Paradise jelly is an old recipe that combines quince, apple, and cranberry.

Quince fool uses cooked and pureed quince loosely folded into whipped cream and served chilled in a parfait glass.

Grocery stores in my area charge $1 each for quinces. Fortunately there is a (somewhat) nearby arboretum where in autumn I am permitted to forage for the fruits of Chinese quince, Pseudocydonia sinensis. Good size fruits that make luscious preserves. There are several recipes in my book, Preserving Memories.

There is something very special about these traditional fruits and vegetables, different from the ubiquitous imported-from-abroad winter asparagus and strawberries, early summer apples. Give me the ambrosial perfume of quince, in its autumnal season.

Posted by Judy on 02/01 at 02:24 PM

Isn’t the history of quinces facinating? What a fruit!

Posted by Heavy Petal on 02/05 at 02:00 PM
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