A quince is an extraordinary fruit many people in this country have never eaten, either because they don’t know what it is or because they don’t understand how to properly use it in the kitchen. While it looks like a pear, you wouldn’t want to try to take a bite of a fresh one!
But make no mistake, once you learn about quinces, you’ll seek them out in your grocery store each fall. Keep reading to learn about this ancient pome fruit and how to enjoy them.
History of Quinces
A quince is a member of the fruit family that apples and pears belong to. It comes from the Mediterranean region and has been cultivated as far back as 2,300 BC. It was grown in hot climates where apples didn’t do so well (such as the Mesopotamian plain).
Eventually quinces made their way to Europe and then to early America. In the 18th century, a quince tree was usually planted at the lower corner of gardens in the New England colonies.
Today there are more than 20 different varieties of quince. The fruit’s especially popular in Mexico and Latin America where apples don’t grow well. Turkey and China are the top two producers of quince fruit worldwide.
Quince Shrub / Fruit Characteristics
Quince is a hardy, drought-tolerant, thick-growing shrub that can be pruned into a tree. In tree form it grows 16-20 feet tall and 13-20 feet wide. In the spring the shrub puts on a show of white or pale pink flowers.
These quinces aren’t to be confused with Chinese or Japanese flowering quince, which are ornamentals with coral-colored blooms that produce small fruit.
Most quince fruit averages 3-4 ½ inches long and 2 ½ – 3 ½ inches wide (the Portugal variety is a huge, football-shaped fruit, found rarely and only at farmers markets in the US).
The fruit is hard, fragrant, thin-skinned, bright yellow and resembles a pear, only “knobby and ugly.” Its texture is described as tough and spongy – between a pear and an Asian pear.
But the fragrance more than makes up for the texture. A quince smells like orange and vanilla, sometimes with a hint of apple. It’s also described as having pineapple, guava, and Bartlett pear scent (likely differs by variety).
Common Uses For Quinces
Quinces are grown for culinary uses, including making liquor. The shrub is popular for use in bonsai.
What Does a Quince Taste Like?
In raw form, it’s tart, sour, and tannic – it’s not the recommended way to eat a quince.
But when cooked? Then the taste is sweet, sharp, and a little perfumy.
Most quinces are too tart and hard for eating in raw form, although two varieties, ‘Aromatnaya’ and ‘Kuganskaya’ , are soft enough to be eaten raw.
For those daring souls, small amounts of raw quince can be chopped up, given a squeeze of lime or lemon juice, and added to salads.
Everyone agrees quinces can only truly be enjoyed when cooked – the fruit turns a soft pink color and the flavor transforms.
Quince is naturally high in pectin and makes great jams, jellies, marmalades, compotes, and even puddings. A quince paste (called “quince cheese”) is a popular condiment in Portugal, Spain, and France. You can order it in gourmet food shops or you can make your own.
The fruit can be peeled for roasting, baking, or stewing. Add small amounts of cooked quince to apple (or other fruit) pies or applesauce. Quince can also be used for tart and muffin recipes.
Quinces are used to make a liqueur in different parts of Europe.
Canning / Freezing / Drying
Quinces are suitable for canning as preserves, freezing, and drying for later use.
Poached Quince (preps your quince for other uses)
Health Benefits of Quinces
Quinces have a very high water content (84%) and have small amounts of vitamins (C, in particular) and minerals (calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium and copper). They’re a low calorie fruit containing dietary fiber and antioxidants.
Quince can provide relief for nausea and vomiting during early pregnancy. It also alleviates digestive problems and inhibits bacterial growth that causes ulcers.
Where To Buy Quinces
Quinces aren’t a huge commercial crop and are only commercially grown in CA now. They’re a limited seasonal fruit you’ll find in grocery produce departments from September to December. The Pineapple quince is the main commercially sold variety and they look like a Golden Delicious apple and a pear had babies. When selecting a quince, it should feel firm – if it’s soft, it’s rotten.
Can You Grow a Quince Shrub At Home?
Yes, if you live in zones 5-9.
Why Would You Want To Grow It?
A quince is a great choice for fruit orchards, kitchen gardens, or edible hedge landscaping.
Today in the Balkans, there’s a lovely tradition of planting a quince tree to symbolize fertility, love, and life to honor the birth of a baby.
Growing a Quince Shrub
A quince grows in hot and temperate climates, but it needs a season that experiences temperatures below 45 degrees F to flower properly.
Quinces self-pollinate, but produce better fruit with a pollination partner nearby. They’re often grown in mixed orchards with pear and apple trees.
While we don’t have a guide specifically for growing quinces, you can consult our guide on how to grow an apple tree for advice that largely applies to quinces as well.
Requires full sun for bigger flowers and fruiting.
Adapts to low to medium pH soils.
Drought tolerant, but needs 1 inch of water per week over the course of two deep soakings.
Quince Shrub Care
Needs only low-maintenance care.
Only fertilize twice a year (March through July). Rake or water the mixture into the soil under the tree’s canopy steering clear of a 4 inch space around the trunk.
Use caution because over fertilizing can cause fruit to drop prematurely and spread fire blight.
Quinces need pruning to take tree form, but as shrubs they can go without pruning for several years. Prune as you would an apple tree.
Diseases & Care
Quince leaf blight occurs in wet summers and causes leaf spotting, early leaf drop, and affects the fruit. Quince planted near cedar or junipers can also suffer cedar-quince rust disease. Besides these two diseases, quinces are largely resistant to disease.
Quince fruit is the food source for the larvae of several species of moths, but quinces are unbothered by insects for long periods of time.
When to Harvest Quinces
Fruit is left on the shrub to ripen. In warm climates the fruit will soften in time for harvesting, whereas in colder climates, the fruit will still be very firm and will need to ripen longer. Fruit is harvested in late autumn before the first frost happens.
Quince that are ready to be picked are the color of Golden Delicious apples with little to no green. After picking, they’ll keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 months wrapped in plastic.
Where To Buy a Quince Shrub
Quince shrubs or trees are available at nurseries, garden centers, or through online retailers. Common varieties for home gardens include ‘Orange,’ ‘Cooke’s Jumbo,’ ‘Champion,’ ‘Pineapple,’ and ‘Rich’s Dwarf.”
Final Thoughts On Quinces
A quince isn’t one of those fruits that just gives its secrets away – it rewards those who take the time to understand how to coax the best flavor from it. And what a sweet reward it is!
So when fall rolls around and you see those pear-like fruits that won’t win any beauty contests, pick up a few and make some magic happen in your kitchen.
Do you grow quinces or do you make magic happen with them in your kitchen? Tell us about your experiences with this tasty, if misunderstood, fruit in the comments section below! To read up on the relatives of quinces, check out our apple blogs posts.