The common sweet quince (Cydonia oblonga) is an applelike fruit tree that has been cultivated for more than 4,000 years, first in Turkey and Iran, where it is native, then in Britain, North America, and elsewhere. In the 1700s, sweet quince was more commonly grown than apple or pear along America's East Coast. This early interest subsided because the tough, tart flesh of most varieties was best enjoyed after lengthy cooking and the addition of generous amounts of sugar.
However, in the last few years agricultural specialists in southern Russia have bred quince varieties that are so tender and sweet they can be eaten fresh. A great new hybrid is 'Aromatnaya'. The 1-pound yellowish fruits are pear-shaped and have a dense flesh. Fruit, which ripens in October in most areas, tastes and smells faintly like pineapple. 'Aromatnaya' is self-fertile, bearing fruit at 4 years old.
One virtue of sweet quince is its ease of cultivation. A 1- to 2-year-old whip planted in full sun in rich, moist soil will almost certainly flourish, though growth is slow. It's hardy in zones 5 through 9. Grow it as a tree, to about 20 feet, or keep it pruned as a shrub. 'Aromatnaya' is also more disease resistant than standard varieties.
One of the best ways to serve quince is thinly sliced in a salad. Cooked quince can be used as you would apples: in pies, baked, or made into preserves. It is very high in pectin, so is great for jelly making.
Eliot Tozer is a gardener and writer living in Tappan, New York.