Strange Fruits and Lots of Quince at the USDA National Clonal Germplasm Repository

November 3, 2013 · 5 comments

medlars // Wayward Spark

Henry and I made what’s becoming an annual visit to the USDA Clonal Germplasm Repository in Corvallis about a week ago. (You can see/read about last year’s visit here.) Our neighbor Joseph Postman, a plant pathologist, works there and offered to tour us around. I was itching to harvest some quince, but Henry wanted to check out some of the more obscure fruits in the collection first.

We started with the medlars (above). You can read the Wikipedia article on medlars, but basically they’re small, brown, roundish things, and after “bletting” (rotting) for a few months, they’ll soften, and the insides taste a little like applesauce. David Lebovitz has a recipe for medlar jelly, but I passed them up this year.

paw paws and giant hawthorne fruits // Wayward Spark

We moved on to admire these giant hawthorne fruits (above right) that came from China. I gnawed on one. It tasted a little tart and pithy. They’re so pretty that I considered trying them out in some kind of jam, but I wasn’t too impressed by the flavor, so they didn’t come home with me.

paw paws // Wayward Spark

The farm has a row of seedling paw paws as well. Paw paws are native to the East Coast. Here in Western Oregon, the trees will grow and thrive, but often the fruit don’t get enough heat in the summer to fully ripen and develop sugars to their full potential.

paw paws // Wayward Spark

We sampled a few paw paws. They have an inedible skin (kinda like a mango) and huge, black seeds. The soft flesh has a flavor reminiscent of bananas.

hardy kiwis // Wayward Spark

The big vineyard of hardy kiwis was dripping with ripe and overripe fruit of all shapes and colors.

giant hardy kiwi // Wayward Spark

Some of them were huge like this one grown from Chinese seed.

crazy kiwis // Wayward Spark

There was one vine of Actinidia macrosperma, a mostly inedible kiwi used in Chinese medicine and known for being high in antioxidants.

quince orchard // Wayward Spark

The quince orchard was such a pretty scene. Though it’s not quite the world collection, the facility houses dozens of different varieties, including a few newly named varieties of quince grown from seed at the farm in Corvallis.

quince tasting // Wayward Spark

We started out by cruising down the aisles, sampling pieces of raw quince. As a quince novice, I was under the impression that one could never just bite into an uncooked, unsweetened quince, but Joseph picked out a few of his favorite less-astringent varieties to try, and I was pleasantly surprised.

sampling quince at a USDA clonal germplasm repository // Wayward Spark

Some of the quince we tried were definitely too astringent to consume right off the tree, but there were others that were sort of sweet and bland. My favorite by far was ‘Kuganskya’, a variety that Joseph (above) bought from One Green World nursery. ‘Kuganskya’ is sweet but tart and flavorful as well. You can get one for yourself here.

quince // Wayward Sparkquince orchard // Wayward Spark

I went through the quince orchard and picked a few fruits off almost every tree. Some were round, some were pear-shaped, some tiny, and some softball-sized or larger. All of them were ripe to overripe and covered with a thin layer of fuzz that could easily be wiped off. They smelled incredible.

hardy kiwi and quince harvest // Wayward Spark

I brought home a bag of hardy kiwis and a whole lot of quince, at least twice as many as last year. I may have gotten a little carried away. I have some ideas for how to use everything up, but if you want to share your favorite quince recipe, I’m all ears.

If you’ve got your own quince, you should check out Apt. 2B Baking Co. and David Lebovitz for both classic and innovative quince-themed recipes. I also hope to share a couple quince recipes here in the near future.

Education is a primary part of the facility’s mission, so the National Clonal Germplasm Repository in Corvallis opens up the the public at least once a year for an open house. The staff are also available to lead prearranged group tours that can be scheduled by calling the front office at 541-738-4200. If you’re in the area, you should come check it out.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Roxana November 3, 2013 at 7:55 pm

I took your advice and made paste! So delicious. Also jelly. But only after I let them sit in my dining room for acre dats making it deliciously fragrant. :)

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Roxana November 3, 2013 at 7:55 pm

A few days**

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NM November 4, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Oh, I love quince, in marmalade with lime juice, in a spiced jam or jelly (vanilla, ginger, cardamom and cinnamon), in liqueur with vanilla beans, in applesauce with cinnamon and cloves, poached with the jam spice mixture …
Saving the cores; some went to make a syrup for digestive ailments, and when a few more collect, I plan to mix them with apples for quince apple jelly, which I haven’t tried. I also want to slice up a poached quince to add to apple pie. Your beautiful photos had me practically drooling.

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Chris C. November 5, 2013 at 1:33 pm

The quince marmalade recipe from the blue chair jam cookbook is my all-time favorite. It is just amazing! I also make quince pip syrup from the leftovers, for winter sore throats. We recently moved to rural Maine from San Francisco, and although I know quince can grow here, I haven’t yet been able to source any. So no quince marmalade for me this year :-( Guess I’m just going to have to plant my own tree for the future!

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Joseph November 16, 2013 at 3:26 am

Thanks, Camille, for the beautiful photos and interesting links.

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