The last of the quince blossom has just dropped its’ fat pink petals, spreading confetti over the garden. I love the tree in bloom; the flowers are much larger than those of most fruit trees but have a wild rose simplicity to them. At this time of the year the leaves are a fresh green and covered with the soft downy hairs that later appear on the fruits.
Quince (latin name Cydonia oblonga) is native to the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains of Turkey and Iran, stretching east into south west Asia, but is now naturalised across much of southern Europe. The fruit is still very popular in its’ region of origin and in my part of north London the Turkish-owned shops often sell imported quince in the autumn. When I first gave some fruit to my Turkish friends I was very surprised to see them happily munch the fruit like an apple! That idea is probably beyond the pale for most Brits as, although the fruit softens a little from its’ usual rock hard state when properly ripe, it is still very sour and full of mouth-drying tannins which need a good spell of cooking to break down. Most references in English say that the fruit cannot be eaten raw for this reason. However it seems that in Turkey and other countries in the region this is the way the fruit is usually eaten, probably because the varieties grown there are more suited to this purpose and because the heat of the summers help to ripen them better. If anyone from that part of the world is reading this, post a comment! I’d love to know more.
Considering where it comes from, the quince is a very accommodating tree. There are several varieties which cope with our grey and soggy climate, many of which succeed as far north as Scotland. However the fruit really needs a long growing season to ripen well and so in more northerly or exposed spots it does best fan-trained on a south or west-facing wall. In a poor summer you may need to ripen the fruit off the tree, although I have never had this problem with my tree which seems to really thrive. I suspect this is a combination of the warm urban environment, the sheltered sunny spot it is growing in and having its’ ‘feet’ in our moisture-holding London clay.