The rare true quince is at its best in a jam

By Lee Reich, Associated Press
Published November 24, 2007

Maybe you've seen quince jelly on the grocery shelf and then taken a look at that quince bush outside.

Can you eat the fruit hanging on the bush? That all depends on how hungry you are, and what sort of quince you've got.

- Most quinces that you see are flowering quinces, a species grown mostly as an ornamental. In spring, large salmon-pink, scarlet, or sometimes white, blossoms grace the thorny tangle of branches. The leaves, emerging reddish in spring and then turning glossy green, are also attractive.

But flowering quinces' fruits, yellowish-green with a hint of red, are rock-hard. You could get your teeth into one, but don't bite. The flavor will pucker your lips horribly. The fruits do have a spicy aroma, though, and if you really want to eat them, boil them with plenty of sugar and make jam. (Alternatively, stick a fruit with whole cloves and hang it on a string to perfume a closet.)

- Another flowering quince, this one called Chinese flowering quince, bears large, egg-shaped yellow fruits, also very fragrant and barely edible. The plant's showy bark is a patchwork of gray, green and brown, much like sycamore. This quince is relatively rare.

- Now we come to the true quince. This rarely planted quince is the only one that's edible. True quince fruits are the size of softballs and look like muscular Golden Delicious apples covered with fuzzy, bright-yellow skins. This fruit has been cultivated since antiquity, and it comes in a few different varieties.

True quinces are edible right off the tree, although they're somewhat dry and tart. But cook them up with just a little sweetener, and you have a delectable, tangy sauce or jelly. Or add pizzazz to an apple pie or a batch of apple sauce by throwing in a few slices of quince.

True quince is less flamboyant, but every bit as pretty as the flowering quinces. With just a few main stems or trunks, it never grows taller than about 10 feet and unfolds large, solitary white blossoms in spring. Depending on the variety, quinces are hardy in USDA grow zones 5 through 10. (The Tampa Bay area is in zone 9.)