It's only in the past few years I've got to know our edible Quince tree, Cydonia oblonga. Until then, I'd only really been familiar with the ornamental or Japanese Quince, Chaenomeles japonica. I grew the latter in my previous garden to give some late winter colour and it's a regular sight on my walk to the railway station as several of the Victorian properties on my route use this shrub for hedging. Sadly, most of the specimens I see are rather uncared for and a mass of tangled, thorny branches. It's a shame as the shrub's blossom is a welcome sight in late winter/early spring and its fruit are adequately edible as a preserve.
The quince tree as seen above at Lytes Cary Manor is a different kettle of fish. A nicely rambling, not too tall an affair with lovely spring blossom and large, tactile, knobbly and heavenly smelling fruit which ripen during September and October. A few centuries ago, the fruit were used medicinally for treating lung complaints, particularly asthma. Today one of the tree's main uses is as a dwarfing rootstock, particularly for pear trees like the ones I'm training as epalliers on my allotment.
The word marmalade is derived from the Portuguese marmelo, or quince preserve. I'm a lover of the Spanish version called membrillo, a heavily scented, sliceable conserve that's utterly delicious with slices of salty Manchego cheese. Just writing that has taken me back to the project in Mallorca I work on, where we'd be sitting under the white poplars taking our daily lunch of chorizo, cheeses and fresh bread. If you can remember those boxes of Meltis New Berry Fruits which used to be given as presents at Christmas, you'll have some idea of membrillo's texture, but sadly not its taste.
The next time I visit Lytes Cary Manor in the autumn, I'll see if I can scrounge some of the fruit to make The Cottage Smallholder's version of membrillo. I particularly like the look of this recipe because it uses less sugar, yet recreates my remembered preserve's texture and deep, rich colour. Perhaps R. Pete Free will let me have some fruit if I donate my surplus jars of preserve for the Manor's shop?
For more views on the letter Q, do have a look at the ABC Wednesday anthology blog.