Membrillos (Cydonia oblonga)
Late Autumn is the time when membrillos (quince, Cydonia oblonga) are reaching their final state of ripeness. The quince (Catalan: codonyer) is a marginal fruit in Mallorca and a bit of an old-fashioned fruit elsewhere, and is often neglected. This was not always the case. Some people say that it was the quince and not the apple that Eve used to seduce Adam with in the garden of Eden. Also, apparently it was not an apple but a quince that Paris awarded to Aphrodite in Greek mythology. In ancient times, the quince was a ritual offering at weddings. Often, a Greek bride would nibble a quince to perfume her kiss before entering the bridal chamber “in order that the first greeting may not be disagreeable nor unpleasant”. In Croatia, a quince tree is often planted as a symbol of fertility, love and life when a baby is born.
The quince tree belongs to the Roseaceae family. The plant has a delicate pink and white flower, rather beautiful in my opinion. The tree is often used as a rootstock for the grafting of pears.
In the olden days, Mallorcan señoras placed membrillos between the linen in the drawers to give their cloths or sheets some of the aromatic fragrance that this fruit possesses. Mallorcan shops still sell Dulce de Membrillo (called Carne de Membrillo in South America), sold in squares or blocks. At home the dulce is then cut into thin slices and spread over toasted bread or sandwiches, plain or with cheese such as manchego, often served for breakfast or as a snack. It is also often used as a filling for pastries.
The fruit is similar to the apple and the pear in all but taste; it is hard and acidy when raw. When cooked with sugar it turns into a pale pinkish sort of colour and makes for a delicious jam or jelly. It is also valued as a flavouring to be added to cooked apples or pears. People in Porreres (Mallorca) aparently made an alcoholic spirit from it not all that long ago. In some parts of France and Switzerland, a liqueur de coing is made from quince, drunk as a digestif.
Quinces have long been used as a herbal medicine, as an infusion to treat sore throat, diarrhoea and haemorrhage of the bowel. It is effective against inflammation of the mucous membranes, intestines and stomach. They are also used in the cosmetic industry and for medicinal cosmetics. Long used in Chinese medicine, the stembark is used as an astringent for ulcers, and the fruits are used for their antivinous, astringent, carminative and peptic qualities. The seeds, soaked or boiled in water, release the mucilage from the seed coat and make a jelly-like consistency, which has been used for sore throats and eye lotions. The water used for boiling the fruit was beneficial in the healing of burns.
The quince is an excellent source of Vitamin C.