Saturday, April 2, 2011

Surprising Quince

The weigela in bloom, May 2, 2010.
One of the most colorful spring features in the garden bed along the side of the driveway is a mature weigela shrub.

Deep ruby blossoms cover it in late April and early May and attract songbirds and hummingbirds. A huge (at least 7 feet tall and easily as wide) shrub, it has multiple woody stems that branch and arch gracefully. It sends up starts enthusiastically and this year, I hope to root a few.

Early last fall, we began our fall cleaning with this bed and one of our fist tasks was going to be to trim out the deadwood that had escaped us in the spring and gently prune the shrub to rein in some of the overgrowth. Wild morning glories had invaded the back side of the shrub and twined their way up into it as well and clearing those away was also a prime goal.

As I began to trim back and deadhead the climbing New Dawn on the nearby lamp pole, Steve prepared to tackle the weigela.

"I'm going to prune this apple shrub now," he said.

"Honey, it's a weigela. It doesn't have apples."

"It's an apple shrub. It has apples."

"Honey, it's a weigela. It doesn't bear fruit."

"Well, this one is growing apples. In fact, they look like Grannie Smith apples."

I think that's the point at which I did my second major eye roll of the day. Earlier, we had had a major debate about our real apple tree, which is on the opposite side of the front yard. Due to the summer-long drought and water ban, it had produced an abundant crop of small bitter apples that more closely resembled bing cherries. Steve was certain they were cherries and reminding him of all of the times we had complained as we had raked up apples could not dissuade him of that notion. I had to actually bite into one, show him the flesh and the apple seeds to convince him that our very old and very large apple tree hadn't morphed into a cherry tree over the summer. Now he was telling me that there were apples in the weigela. With a noisy sigh, I stopped what I was doing and went to check. Sure enough, the weigela was growing ..... apples. Or something.

We both tried to follow branches and determine if we were dealing with a separate shrub and if so, where did it begin in terms of the weigela. We never really sorted that out, but Steve had an interesting thought.

"These look like apples, but I think they may be quince," he commented. Never having seen a true quince, I couldn't say, but I couldn't imagine how a quince could be growing up through our weigala. An apple could have found it's way from our tree in the front yard and the seeds could have sprouted into a little tree. But a quince?

I had picked several of the fruits with the idea of making an apple pie. Bringing them into the kitchen, we both eagerly awaited the moment of truth. Cutting into them was difficult. The flesh was very firm and dense but he was absolutely correct. There was no mistaking the unusual distribute of the seeds in their pockets.

We still have not sorted out where the quince came from, nor were we able to differentiate the quince from the weigela branches once the fruit was removed. We found fruit throughout the thick shrub, so clearly, they are deeply entwined. Our thought is that when we do our spring pruning and cleaning in another couple of weeks while the shrubs are still defoliated, it may be easier to determine the extent of each plant.

What to do with the two shrubs growing together? We're open to suggestions. My sense is to just leave them and enjoy the beauty of the weigela in the spring and the fruit in the fall.

As for the fruit we collected, I researched how to cook them and finally settled on poaching them. Following David Lebovitz's instructions, I cooked them with a cinnamon stick, a few cloves, and few allspice berries which I tied up in some cheesecloth. After cooking, I removed the spices and saved the poached quince slices and poaching liquid in the refrigerator for a few days while I pondered what to do next. They never attained the rose colored hue I expected to see based on my reading, and the taste remained exquisitely tangy, a lot like lemon, so I'm not convinced they were ripe when we picked them. But without knowing the variety, it's hard to say. This autumn, if we are blessed with another crop of fruit, I'll leave a few and watch them over the month of October to see if they remain green or turn yellow. 

Ultimately, I made a berry, apple and quince pie in order to use up some berries and apples that were languishing in the refrigerator. I cut the quince slices into small chunks and returned them along with the poaching liquid to the stove. I added the peeled, chopped apples first and when they were beginning to soften, added the berries, about a cup and a half of granulated Splenda, another teaspoon of ground cinnamon, a dash of ground cloves, and a pinch of salt.

Once the apples were almost cooked through, I thickened the fruit mixture with cornstarch and then put it in the pie shell to finish baking. After brushing the top with egg white and sprinkling with vanilla sugar, I baked it in a 400 degree oven.

Never having cooked quince before, it was hard for me to isolate the flavor in the fruit mixture once I added enough sweet to balance the tart, but the pie did get rave reviews from Steve and everyone who tasted it.


  1. I have a Wiegela that bore the same fruit described here. But there is no other plant growing with it. The fruit is definitely growing on my Wiegela. The odd thing is that I've had this bush for 20 some years and it's never done this before. Can you give me any more info on this? It would be greatly appreciated. Thank

    1. Madalon,

      My guess is that your plant is actually a flowering quince, not a wiegela.

      Our shrub was identical to a neighbor's "wiegela" and I think that either some of the shrubs and blooms are so similar, it's hard to distinguish them, or this particular cultivar was mis-identified and mis-tagged.

      We were so convinced that we had a wiegela, we originally thought that a quince was growing with our wiegela, but watching the shrub carefully the following spring, and watching the development of the fruit, it's apparent to us that this is indeed a flowering quince.

      What I find to be quite a coincidence is that our shrub was probably 20 years old or more when it first began to produce fruit. I don't know if that is typical of quince, or typical of some types of quince, or what. But there is no question about the fruit.

      Hope this helps!

  2. Quince often don't flower until well into maturity - left to their own devices they generally want to be quite large trees, particularly if you've an ungrafted variety. They can sulk if pruned wrong. Theoretically, they are mostly self fertile, but some varieties want a pollination partner - if yours hasn't fruited before, it may be that somewhere closeish by there is a quince where there wasn't one before!

  3. FD, thanks so much for your in-put.

    The particular type of quince we have is a shrub and since I wrote this post, we have since seen this shrub sold in both one and three gallon containers at a local nursery, already blooming. The shrub bloomed prolifically every spring but it wasn't until this year that we actually saw any fruit. Of course, since the squirrels and birds were feasting on it, it may be that we simply missed it in the past.

    Also since this post was written I have dug several runners from the main shrub to share with friends and theirs are doing well, thriving, blooming, but no fruit yet.

    Your comment about the fruiting not happening until another shrub was planted nearby is very possibly on target. We experienced the same thing with a full grown cherry tree on our property. It bloomed gloriously but produced no fruit until we planted a weeping cherry close by.


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