A native of the Caucasus and Iran, the quince was cultivated more than 4,000 years ago in Ancient Persia. It is also known as the "Pear of Cydonia".
The Ancient Greeks grew quince trees around the town of Cydonia or Kydonia in Crete, hence their botanical name: Cydonia vulgaris. They ate the fruit after having filled them with honey. They considered the quince the symbol of love and happiness.
Along the same lines, the Romans consecrated the quince to Venus: she is represented with a quince in her right hand, a gift from the god Paris. They were offered to the newly married couple at weddings.
Apicius left a recipe for "patina of quince" in which they are cooked with leeks, honey, oil, garum, and defritum (mosto cotto in present-day Italian). Sea bream was also cooked with quince.
In medieval France, quince was greatly used in both cooking and medicine. Among other things, a quince paste – cotignac – was made as a sweetmeat that also served as an aid to digestion and a remedy for diarrhea. Don Quixote strongly recommended that Sancho Panza took a few slices of quince jelly to soothe his indigestions: thus dulce de membrillo, immortalized by Cervantes, has become a popular sweet dish in Spain, often served with cheese.
A ripe quince has yellow skin with a light fuzz, and gives off a rather strong but very pleasant smell. It should be firm, intact, and free from blemishes.
Quince is available fresh during the season. It is also comes frozen in 10 or 20 mm cubes or in puree.
Preserved, it is sold canned in syrup.
Quinces can be stored in a cool place for two or three weeks.
They should not be kept in the refrigerator: their strong smell will affect other foods, especially as their aromatic compounds continue to develop.
The main nutritional interest of the quince is its high fiber content, mainly pectins, which are soluble fibers that are well tolerated by the digestive tract. It also has a high tannin content, which gives the fruit its particular sour taste.
The combination of pectin and tannins gives quince very good anti-diarrheal properties.
It also contains a great deal of vitamins and minerals, while it is low in carbohydrates and has no fat (like all fruit).
But the quince often needs a lot of sugar when it is being prepared. This deeply modifies its nutritional value.
The quince is not widely grown in France. Different varieties, which are somewhat similar to each other, come to market when they are picked in the fall, from September through November: Champion, Angers quince, Portugal quince, Provence quince, Bourgeaut quince, Géant de Vranja.