Measuring Quinces

Sorting quinces

It’s a blustery fall day here in Western Washington. A series of storms are moving through this week, which is typical for October here, but the winds are coming a bit earlier than usual, and we still have late-season fruit on the trees.

Dad picked all of Woody’s apples this morning. They’re still a tad under ripe, but wouldn’t have held out in this wind, and they are still delicious. Woody made a beautiful assortment this year, including the biggest that we’ve yet seen from him, which will soon be measured and added to Woody’s 1:12 scale miniature apple set.

But for today, I picked a couple boxes of quinces this morning that are in the process of being measured for miniatures.

I work from real fruit whenever possible because it’s the best way to pick up the subtle details that add to the realism of a 1:12 scale version of the fruit. For fruit that I have a large quantity of, the first step is sorting the fruit by size to determine what the average size is and what the other size groups are.

If you’ve only ever bought your fruit at a grocery store, it may seem as if all the fruits of a particular variety are essentially the same size. While that can be close to the truth for some very consistently sized varieties on a heavily thinned tree, more often than not even the fruit of the same variety from the same tree can vary greatly in size.

Sorting quinces

Above are the Orange quinces that I’m sorting from one of my quince trees. This particular tree moved to Whidbey Island with us. I’d planted her as a young tree in our previous rather shady orchard. She came over in the back of a U-Haul truck and even got to ride on a ferry boat. After a year in a giant pot while we got the new orchard set up, she has spent the last nine years spreading her roots and branches in her new sunny home.

The form on this tree is rather peculiar–she looks far more like a shrub than a normal fruit tree. She was a mail-order tree and arrived to me with a bent branch structure that I imagined she’d eventually grow out of. Perhaps she kept it because of her mobile past or maybe it’s just her personal preference. Either way, she is simply gorgeous. In the late spring she has giant flowers, and she keeps her lovely rounded leaves late into the fall. It’s mid October,  and her leaves are still only barely beginning to yellow.

The Orange quince is an early quince that has smaller fruit than a number of other cultivated quinces, but they can still be quite large.

Large orange quince

They can also be quite small.

Small orange quince

My other cultivated quince is a Pineapple quince, and he’s a relatively new addition to the orchard. He was only planted a few years ago. My Pineapple quince is much more upright quince with a standard tree form, so despite being younger, he is already notably taller than the Orange quince.

This year was his first year flowering and fruiting. Because he’s new to the fruit business, he only made nine fruit or so, which is probably good because I made the mistaken assumption that his fruit ripened at the same time as the Orange quince.

It turns out that Pineapple is actually a late-season quince, and I picked the fruit under ripe. While that’s not good for eating, it thankfully won’t affect their measuring for miniatures. I will need to make the miniature Pineapple quinces more yellow than the real versions I’m modeling them after, but this late in the season the fruit is already full size.

Because the Pineapple quince only made a few fruit this year, his fruit have less variation than my Orange quinces.

Pineapple quinces

The Pineapple quince wasn’t my only quince first this year. There are several other trees like Woody spotted in and around our orchard that are the old survivors from an orchard that was planted long before this house was built.

But with the survivors,  there are also stumps of several large old fruit trees that were lost. From the state of the wood, it looks as if the trees died well over a decade before we moved here. The stumps weren’t cut as if someone had  decided to remove the trees, rather they look rugged and split as if nature was just too hard on them. From the timing, they were likely lost in the last major ice storm that moved through this area, which had also devastated trees in our old orchard.

One of the lost trees was certainly a massive cherry tree, one was too far gone to identify, and one I had assumed was an apple. When we first moved in that rotting apple stump, which still had remnants of it’s large broken limbs haphazardly stacked around it, had a new tree not all that much taller than me growing from the base.

For a couple of years, I thought what was growing back was apple rootstock, which tends to make nasty fruit, but it was an adorable tree fighting so hard to come back. I left it to do what it wanted, and it wasn’t until it grew larger that it really sunk in that neither the leaves nor the form were right for an apple tree.

I then wasn’t sure what it was and just worked on pruning it to a more upright form–the silly thing was growing sideways, probably from damage in a windstorm before we came, and throwing all of its the weight to the front. The tree has since transitioned to an upright tree, but it wasn’t until several years ago that the mystery tree flowered for the first time and made a couple of hard green vaguely pear-shaped fruit. I watched them all season, waiting for them to grow into pears, but they never grew larger, and come the first kill frost they were still little green rocks.

That continued for a couple of years, and I realized it must be a rootstock quince, which had likely once supported an old pear tree. The tree has shot up to fifteen feet, and we’d accepted that it would always just be an ornamental that made fruit but apparently couldn’t ripen them in this climate.

That was until this year when for no apparent reason–this was not a particularly warm year–the tree decide it could ripen the fruit after all. She gave us a lovely box of these wee adorable quinces.

Large and small quince

They don’t look anything like the standard cultivated quinces I’m familiar with, but they look exactly like the ones I saw in the grocery store for the first time a couple of weeks ago, so I’m going to say they’ll be delicious.

While we’ll have to wait until they’re cooked to determine how tasty they are (raw quinces are rather unpleasant to say the least), like their larger quince friends, they’ll certainly be adorable as 1:12 scale miniature quinces.

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