Quinces for Sale

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Friday, September 4, 1914: Nothing much for today.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Since Grandma didn’t write much a hundred years ago today, I’m going to finally post something I wrote in September, 2011, but never posted. The story is about quinces. At the time I planned to buy some quinces, make some quince jelly, and then include the following story in the post. But I couldn’t find any quinces that year, so I never used the story.

And, in 2012 and 2013, I again scoured farmers markets and farm stands looking for quinces—but never found any, so I again never used the story. This year, I once more haven’t found any quinces, but I decided that it’s a memory worth sharing even if I can’t tie it to a recipe. Here goes—

Grandma never learned how to drive—and after she became a widow when she was in her early 70s, family members took her shopping, to appointments, and to church. Each Sunday my uncle brought her to church in McEwensville, and my family took her home.

One Sunday that stands out in my memory is a crisp, sunny late summer or early fall day when we drove past a weathered house on the way home from church. A woman, whom I’ll call Flora, lived in the house.

Grandma noticed ripe quinces on some small trees in Flora’s overgrown yard, and said, “I wish I had some quinces. I’d like to make some jelly.”

Several days later my mother stopped at Flora’s and asked if she could buy some quinces. Flora never had much money,  and she happily sold Mom a grocery bag full of quinces for several dollars. Mom took the quinces over to Grandma’s and was astonished to see freshly filled jelly jars–jars filled with homemade quince jelly– on Grandma’s kitchen counter.

Surprised, Mom asked Grandma where she had gotten the quinces. Grandma said, “Oh, I walked over to Flora’s and bought them.”

We were amazed that our elderly grandmother had walked two miles or so to buy quinces, and then lugged a heavy bag of them home.

The next Sunday Grandma said, “It’s strange how everyone’s giving me quinces this year. Marjorie [her daughter] brought me some yesterday.”

A few days later we drove by Flora’s house. There were two  large hand-painted wooden signs in her yard that said Quinces for Sale. Three people seeking to buy quinces apparently led Flora to think that there was a market for them—and she probably never realized that they all were for the same person. I wonder if she sold any more after the signs went up.

After looking for quinces for four years now, I wish that Flora and her quinces were still around. I’d be her best customer.

48 Responses

  1. Quinces are so desirable! I do wish you could find some quinces.

    • It’s interesting to know that there’s not just a local shortage of quinces, but that they apparently are also difficult to find in New Zealand. :)

      • Yes, the best way to get quinces here seems to be to know someone who knows someone who has a tree or where to find a tree! Would you be able to grow your own quince tree? I don’t have enough room in my garden.

  2. What a wonderful story!!!! I’ve never tasted quince, and have only known of one person to grow them. Thanks for the early morning smile!

  3. Very glad you resurrected this story – what fun! Had no idea that quinces were a crop in northern climes and good luck with you search for them…maybe google?

  4. That’s a funny story. Word got around pretty well of the high demand for quinces.

    What are they? It looks like an apple.

    • They are extremely hard–and must be cooked to be usable. The ones that I’ve seen typically look more gnarled than an apple. They are an old-fashioned fruit that has a very high pectin content–and they were more popular back in the days before you could buy commercially prepared pectin.

  5. It’s a delightful story. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a quince, or tasted quince jelly. On the other hand, there are things I pass by in the grocery store because I don’t recognize them. Maybe there are some quinces in there.

    • I generally shop at a fairly run-of-the-mill supermarket. Maybe some place like Whole Food Markets would have them–though on the few occasions that I’ve been in Whole Foods stores, I’ve never noticed them.

  6. Quince. Never ate one, never saw one. Looked it up, looks like it tried to be a pear but couldn’t quite make it. Not recommended to eat raw. Surprised to see they can be used to make wine! Flavorings, pies, jams, jellies. Quince. New. Thanks. :smile:

  7. What a heartwarming story! I wish you had found those quinces too but you could still post the recipe. :) I think they grow wild here and they say not to try to eat them until after the first frost.

    • I hadn’t heard about waiting until after it frosts to use them–but you’re probably right, I don’t know much about them.

      • I don’t either but the locals here tell me if you eat a quince before the first frost, it will be so astringent you will spit it out. I have had a ripe one – very soft and sweet.

  8. Great post. Great story. We have quince bushes on either side of our back door. They really like to grow and seem to consider it their mission to take over that space and block us from entry into the door. I spend more time clipping them than I ever do eating the fruit of them but the pretty red blossoms are beautiful.

  9. What a lovely story! :)
    I think it’s a bit too early for quince. I hope to find some soon at the store. It’s such a wonderful fruit.

  10. Great story. Grandma had some gumption!

  11. A beautiful and touching story Sheryl! My mom’s in her 70s and would have no problem walking 2 miles with a bag of fruit. Hope that I will be just as fit in my 70s. <3
    Diana xo

  12. That’s a lovely story. We have quinces in our garden this year otherwise I’d never seen them before.

  13. That’s a great story. I have never heard of quince. It does look like some sort of an apple.

  14. I made quince jelly one time and it was the most fragrant, tasty jelly. I must point out that there is more than one type of quince-the ornamental variety of shrub-the ones with the beautiful coral flowers, and another that is more tree-like which is in Sheryl’s picture. I used the fruit from the ornamental shrub and, while it made a delicious product, I would never do it again! The fruits are very hard which made cutting them up a dangerous activity, and, there is very little flesh on them. Also, unless they’re cooked, they are totally inedible!

    • Your description of quince jelly is just like I remember. It was wonderful!

      I’ve been vaguely thinking about buying a quince tree so that I have some fruit some day. Your comment makes me realize that I need to use care to make sure that I purchase the tree-like type that produces the better fruit.

  15. What an awesome memory. I love how even a simple fruit can spark sweet memories of our relatives past.
    Grandma must’ve been a sturdy strong woman to have tracked that distance at her age. I wish I had some her jelly, it sounds delicious. :)

  16. As far as I know I have never seen a quince but I have heard of them. I am sorry you have not been able to find any. I really enjoyed reading this story. I hope Flora sold more of them after putting up the sign since she needed the money. Hugs

  17. That is one very funny story and I am glad you posted it. I have had quince jelly. It was brought to me from a friend in Germany. It is very nice and not common to the Americans.Flora’s business was booming over Grandma’s wish.

  18. Great story about your grandmother. Thanks for sharing.

  19. What a funny story, Sheryl. For some reason I don’t think quinces are a market fruit, just a back-yard fruit. Maybe they are unreliable to grow? Anyway, I wrote about my daughters’ and my first encounter with quinces here (http://nancysfamilyhistoryblog.blogspot.com/2011/07/quince-honey-jelly-roll-or-sponge-cake.html) along with my grandmother’s recipe for quince honey (which is more sugar than anything else!). I wonder if Flora sold many more of her quinces.

    • When I was researching this post I came across some site which said that quinces have a lot of pectin, and were more important for jelly-making in the days before commercial pectin. I also think that it said something about some plant disease that wiped many of the quince trees out.

      Thank you for sharing the link to your wonderful story about quinces and the recipes. I really hope that I can someday locate some quinces so that I can try making a few quince recipes.

  20. Hi Sheryl. I had a quince bush that flowered but never produced fruit. One year while I was away someone came and dug it up! Do you know the poem about The Owl and the Pussycat? They ate ‘quince and slices of mince, served up with a runcible spoon’!

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