Family Rosaceae, Rose
OTHER NAMES: Honey apple, Cydonian apple, quince pear, quoyne. Coine (Old French) became the Middle English quin, and hence quince from its plural, quins.
DESCRIPTION: Small trees with white or pink flowers resembling apple blossom and yellow, irregularly shaped, pear-like fruits which smell of honey. This pretty tree will benefit from underplanting of chives and garlic as companion plants.
PROPERTIES AND USES: Today we regard quince as an inconvenient fruit. In these colder climes it cannot be eaten raw, it sometimes has a light fur on the skin and its flesh is hard and tannic. It needs long, slow cooking to make it palatable. Culpeper says: “Quinces when they are green, help all sorts of fluxes in men or women, and choleric lasks [diarrhea], casting, and whatever needs astriction, more than any way prepared by fire; yet the syrup of the juice, or the conserve, are much conducible, much of the binding quality being consumed by the fire; if a little vinegar be added, it stirs up the languishing appetite, and the stomach given to casting; some spices being added, comforts and strengthens the decaying and fainting spirits, and helps the liver oppressed, that it cannot perfect the digestion, or corrects choler and phlegm…To take the crude juice of Quinces, is held a preservative against the force of deadly poison; for it hath been found most certainly true, that the very smell of a Quince hath taken away all the strength of the poison of white Hellebore. If there be need of any outwardly binding and cooling of hot fluxes, the oil of Quinces, or other medicines that may be made thereof, are very available to anoint the belly or other parts therewith; it likewise strengthens the stomach and belly, and the sinews that are loosened by sharp humours falling on them, and restrains immoderate sweating. The mucilage taken from the seeds of Quinces, and boiled in a little water, is very good to cool the heat and heal the sore breasts of women. The same, with a little sugar, is good to lenify the harshness and hoarseness of the throat, and roughness of the tongue. The cotton or down of Quinces boiled and applied to plague sores, heals them up: and laid as a plaster, made up with wax, it brings hair to them that are bald, and keeps it from falling, if it be ready to shed.” From the Doctrine of Signatures, it was concluded that the light down on the skin suggests that the fruit will restore hair to the head. Quince syrup was added to drinks in times of sickness, especially looseness of the bowels, which it was said to restrain by its astringency. The seeds were used medicinally for the sake of their mucilage. One of their main uses today is as grafting rootstock for pears and apples, to restrict the height of the trees. The fruits perfume a room and can be used as bases for pomanders. In a Spanish tapas bar, you will come across membrillo, the jelly-like paste served with Spanish cheeses such as manchego. The word marmalade originally meant a quince jam, marmelo being the Portuguese for quince.
HISTORY: Cultivation of quince probably preceded apple culture, originating in Persia and Turkestan, and the “apple” of the Biblical Song of Solomon may have been a quince. Quince was a ritual offering at Greek weddings, for Aphrodite (Venus) had brought it from the Levant. Plutarch reported that before entering the bridal chamber, a Greek bride would eat a piece of quince, “in order that the first greeting may not be disagreeable nor unpleasant.” Elsewhere, Plutarch noted that the dictator Solon decreed that “bride and bridegroom shall be shut into a chamber, and eat a quince together.” The Greeks obtained the tree from Cydon in Crete, from which we derive the genus name Cydonia. The Romans also treasured the quince, calling it melimelum, honey apple, because its flavor and fragrance are honey-like. Venus is often depicted with a quince in her right hand, the gift she received from Paris. Virgil’s “Golden Apples” were probably quinces, as oranges did not arrive in Italy until the time of the Crusades. Charlemagne in 812 encouraged their planting across his empire, and Chaucer refers to them as coines. Quinces were associated with love from the earliest times, and used in wedding feasts—we read in Dr. John Case’s book The Praise of Musicke (1586): “I come to marriages, wherein as our ancestors did fondly and with a kind of doting, maintain many rites and ceremonies, some whereof were either shadows or abodements [abodings] of a pleasant life to come, as the eating of a Quince Pear to be a preparative of sweet and delightful days between the married persons.”
Genesis does not mention the specific fruit that Adam and Eve took from the Tree of Knowledge, but it is thought that the fruit of temptation was a quince. Throughout the Scriptures, the Hebrew word tappauch is translated as apple, but many scholars believe that the fruit was a quince.