Quince with immature fruit
‘Aromatnaya’, ‘Kuganskaya’, ‘Mellow’
Description and site preference
Type and size – small tree, seldom more than 20 feet
Hardiness zone – 4-9
Exposure – tolerates full shade; fruits best in full sun to partial shade
Soil – adapts to a wide range
Drainage – moderate to well-drained
Years to harvest – 2-3
Maintenance – medium, must exercise care not to spread fire blight
Life of planting – 25+ years (if protected from fire blight)
Machine harvest potential – none
Suitable markets – fresh and processed
Nutritional highlights – high in fiber, vitamins, minerals and pectin
Adaptability – high
Pest issues – susceptible to fire blight
Invasive potential – none
Environmental benefits – late-blooming, supports native pollinator populations
Shared management – medium, same as most other fruits
Shared equipment – limited by fire blight management
Shared processing – medium, firmer fruit may require special processing
Co-marketing – high, long shelf life
Integration potential – conditional
May be easier to manage as stand-alone crop but could be included in a system with other perennial fruiting plants not susceptible to fire blight.
Quince with branch affected by fire blight
History and background
One of the earliest known fruits, quince is a pome fruit related to apples and pears. It is native to the Trans Caucasus area. For more than 4,000 years, quince trees have been grown in Asia and the Mediterranean. Today it is still widely grown in other parts of the world, especially the Middle East, the Mediterranean and South America, but is considered a specialty fruit in the U.S., having never caught on as a commercial crop.
The firm fruit is aromatic and high in pectin, which for many years made it popular in home orchards for jams and jellies. The fruit resembles a large European pear and is produced on a small tree that, like European pear, is subject to a bacterial disease called fire blight.
Quince fruit is low in saturated fat and sodium. It is a good source of dietary fiber and vitamin C (USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory).
Observations at Carandale Farm
As home orchards and home preserving declined and powdered pectin became available in the first part of the 20th century, quince became a forgotten fruit. There was no incentive for cultivar improvement. Fortunately, in other parts of the world, quince was still in demand and breeding programs continued. More recent introductions from Russia have improved sweetness, flavor, uniformity and quality. Carandale has had three recent cultivars in their test plot.
‘Aromatnaya’ and ‘Kuganskaya’ were purchased from Northwoods Nursery in 2003. Both grew well and set fruit in 2004. Carandale observed both through 2005 until it became obvious that ‘Aromatnaya’ was superior in almost every way at their site. The fruit of ‘Kuganskaya’ was smaller, less aromatic, not as sweet and suffered more insect and disease damage. Carandale removed this cultivar from the site in the fall of 2005 to make room for another cultivar, ‘Mellow’, a Ukrainian variety said to be tender. ‘Mellow’ grows on 8-10 foot dwarf trees .
- Quince are considered hardy to Zone 4, but some late varieties may not fully ripen in some years at the northern limit of their range.
- Quince require a long growing season and become softer and more palatable the longer they remain on the tree.
- The fruit is firm, but it bruises easily and should be handled with care.
- Northern grown quince will remain firmer that than southern grown quince of the same variety. This does not affect culinary uses but may be more limiting for fresh use, which is a minor consideration.
Regarding the ‘Aromatnaya’ cultivar:
- The fruit is large, attractive and uniform.
- It has a deep yellow color and has no fuzz when fully ripe.
- This variety has a persistent, aromatic, lemon-like scent.
- It produces large crops annually (with the exception of 2012). It normally blooms late enough to miss spring freezes, but 2012 was an anomaly.
- It has been vigorous and disease resistant with one exception: fire blight started showing up in 2008. Fire blight is a bacterial disease that will have to be anticipated and managed.
- Because of their high regard for this cultivar, Carandale purchased another 12 ‘Aromatnaya’ trees in 2010 and planted them in another location. They will need to be pro-active at the first sign of fire blight.
Regarding the ‘Mellow’ cultivar:
- This cultivar was planted in 2006 to replace ‘Kuganskaya’.
- It was slower to establish but has shown no sign of fire blight, even though it has been exposed to it.
- Trees are smaller and have never fruited as heavily as ‘Aromatnaya’.
- Fruit are somewhat smaller, not as attractive and retains a fuzzy surface even after ripening.
- Fruit quality may be better when grown in a warmer climate and/or a longer growing season.
Quince is making a revival in this country as a high-end culinary food. Books of quince recipes and lore have been published recently, and the fruit increasingly is featured at high-end restaurants. Ben Watson, author and food activist with Slow Food USA, said, “It’s lovely and fragrant but pretty much inedible unless transformed by peeling, coring and cooking. I think it is poised for a comeback” (Los Angeles Times, 2009).
Fire blight continues to be the biggest threat to commercial plantings in this country. This threat can be addressed with good management practices (sanitation, antibiotics, etc.). Breeding programs elsewhere, most notably Russia, have brought forth cultivars with superior fruit quality and disease resistance. Unfortunately, disease resistance is a regional issue and does not necessarily translate to other parts of the world.
Quince could be part of an integrated planting system for environmental reasons, but for economic reasons it would be considered a stand-alone crop. It has specialized harvesting, and handling needs. Quince would fit well into a local and regional marketing system where a short supply chain would reduce handling and storage requirements, allowing the fruit to mature on the tree for better quality.
If allowed to fully ripen on the tree, quince has an aromatic lemon scent that can act as a natural air freshener. Superior selections allowed to tree ripen can be enjoyed fresh if thinly sliced.
Wikipedia entry on Quince
Plants for a Future, search Quince
USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory: Quince
Karp, David. “There’s a new taste for quince.” Los Angeles Times, 10/28/09.