The Quince is a small deciduous tree native to warm-temperate southwest Asia. It is related to apples and pears, and has a fruit which is bright golden yellow when mature. The fruit can be eaten cooked or raw and is an excellent source of vitamin C.
Cultivation of quince preceded apple culture. Among the ancient Greeks, the quince was a ritual offering at weddings, for it had come from the Levant with Aphrodite and remained sacred to her. Plutarch reports that a Greek bride would nibble a quince to perfume her kiss before entering the bridal chamber.
Quince was later introduced to the New World, but has become rare in North America due to its susceptibility to fireblight disease caused by the bacterium Erwinia amylovora. Almost all of the quinces in North American specialty markets come from Argentina. In Latin America the gel-like, somewhat adhesive substance surrounding the seeds was used to shape and style hair.
In South America, the membrillo, as the quince is called in Spanish, is cooked into a reddish jello-like block or firm reddish paste known as dulce de membrillo. It is then eaten in sandwiches and with cheese, traditionally manchego cheese, or accompanying fresh curds. The sweet and floral notes of quince contrast nicely with the tanginess of the cheese.
In the Canary Islands and some places in South America a quince is used to play an informal beach toss-and-swim game, usually among young teens. When mixed with salt water a mature quince will turn its sour taste to sweet. The game is played by throwing a quince into the sea. All players race to catch the quince and whoever catches it takes one bite and tosses the quince again, then the whole process gets repeated until the quince is fully eaten.