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Shakespeare’s Garden: Quince

quinceThe quince (Cydonia oblonga) belongs to the rose family (Rosaceae) along with apples, pears, and almonds. It is native to southwest Asia, Turkey, and Iran where it grows on rocky slopes and the margins of woodlands. Quinces are small deciduous trees up to twenty-six feet tall with a fifteen foot spread. They bear fragrant white flowers with pinky-red stripes in spring and large, yellow, pear-shaped fruit in the fall that are fragrantly aromatic and very hard until cooked. The mid green leaves turn yellow-gold in fall. Quince is cultivated for its flowers, fruits, and fall color.

In Romeo and Juliet ( act iv, sc. 4, 2) as the nurse prepares for Juliet’s wedding to Paris, she says;

They call for dates and Quinces in the pastry.

The quince has a long history and may be the apple of the garden of Eden, the golden apple that Paris awarded Venus, the apples in the Garden of Hesperides, and the apple that caused Atalanta to pause in her race. The ancient Greeks associated the quince with fertility and weddings. Greek brides ate quince to perfume their kiss before entering the bridal chamber and husband and wife shared a quince on their wedding day. The Romans had recipes that called for quince with both honey and leeks.

The common name, quince, probably comes from the Old French word coine derived from the Latin cotoneum malum, “quince fruit”, a variant of cydonium malum from the Greek kydonion malon “apple of Kydonia”. Kydonia was an ancient city-state on the island Crete, and also gave its name to the generic name of the quince, Cydonia.