Monday, May 5, 2008

Flower Power!

Back in the late summer of 2006, I ordered a quince tree from a nursery in California. I'd never planted a fruit tree before, but I'd read plenty on the topic, and dreamed about it for years, and finally managed to get my wife to reluctantly agree to getting one. So did a lot of searching and researching, and picked Cydonia oblongata as the variety I wanted. The tree was delivered by UPS in a big (and heavy) cardboard box. I followed the included instructions and watched it grow for the next year and a half. Nothing much happened of course (except for a couple attacks by bugs). It didn't blossom or fruit the first year, but that was expected since quince flower from the ends of new growth.

This year is apparently a different story though. When I went back to check on it last Thursday (and make sure the bugs hadn't attacked again), I saw little rosy-salmony-colored flower buds at the end of each branch. It's going to flower this year, neat! So I checked again yesterday and here's what I found:

so that's what quince blossoms look like
(click for huge image)

This means that with any luck I'll have home-grown quince sometime around October, and home-grown quince leads to home-made quince marmalade!

Why is that so exciting? You've never had quince marmalade, have you? Let me try to explain ...

To say that quince is a close relative of the apple doesn't quite put it in perspective. The quince is everything the apple has ever wanted to be but just can't. It has an incredible fragrance, and because of it's high natural pectin content, it is perfect for making preserves. In fact in the 18th and 19th centuries, there were quince trees in just about every farm yard just because of its usefulness. The quince isn't perfect though. It's kind of funny looking. It's also usually to hard and astringent to eat raw, and therefore needs to be cooked before eating.

And therein lies the big problem. The vast majority of people in the US nowadays don't cook. They want ready-to-eat food. This makes quince unlikely to be a big seller at the corner grocery, if it's stocked there at all.

Things are looking up though. Quince can often be found in ethnic groceries, and I've even started to see them from time to time in the big chain stores. Take a look next time you're in amongst the produce. If you find some, take them home, cut them up, and cook them. From that point on an apple will never be able to look you in the eye again.

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