Monday, January 13, 2014

Tracing Kinds of Quince

The season of remembering is here—remembering the sunny days of Spring and Summer, remembering the deeper past—and such memories sometimes join. ‘Tis the season, after all, when gardeners curl up with seed catalogs.

Brigitte was looking out at the now, temporarily, melting snow and noted that our lilac bush has more than doubled in height and width since its acquisition three years ago. Then she added mournfully: “But we’ve yet to see any quince on our quince bush.” That bush joined our garden two years ago.

Brigitte’s statement then constellated—as mention of quince always does—an early period in my life, circa 1942, the year I first went to school. That happened in a small city in Hungary, Cegléd, these days with a population of 38,000. My father was briefly stationed there as a soldier. We lived in a palatial mansion then, complete with servants’ wing and two floors with exceedingly high ceilings. The pile was heated by huge stoves—which were so expensive to feed with wood that in the single winter we spent there, most of the house was shut down. And while we had stables accommodating four horses at need, a huge and several formal gardens, the toilet was out of doors—which lent winter yet other charms. But one of the charms of this place was quince. We had at least four large quince trees; they produced abundant and large fruit. Of Cegléd I remember the swimming pool we walked to—very modern—the school I attended, which was five grades in one small room, each grade with a single bench on which we sat. There were five of us first graders and I sat in the middle of the first bench. Why so small? In a moment. I also remember the main shopping street, quite near us, where I first noticed with childish wonder that women wore very high heels.

Now the quince we have—along with Monique and Theresa, one of Monique’s neighbors (which also inspired us to buy quince bushes)—turn out to be flowering quince, formally Chaenomeles speciosa. This species produces fruit similar to but somewhat smaller than the quince in Cegléd. Speciosa, at maximum height, is about 3 meters; the fruit is dark yellow. The species that grew, and presumably still grows in Cegléd is Cydonia oblonga; it is a tree that, at maximum, reaches 8 meters into the air; its fruit is much larger, pear-shaped, and green to light yellow; a tree will typically produce about 300 pounds of fruit in a season. For these reasons, I’ve wondered, since getting our shrub, if they are really closely related. It turns out that they are: Same family (Rosaceae), same tribe (Maleae), same subtribe (Malinae), and same subfamily (Amygdaloideae). They differ in genus (Chaenomeles vs. Cydonia) and therefore also at the species level.

Cegléd had a very rural feel to it in my early years; it has since developed a good deal. It appears to have been a strongly protestant city; its largest church is also the largest Calvinist church in all of Hungary; Protestantism, in Cegléd has a very big footprint, not least several huge Lutheran and another large Calvinist church. For this reason, perhaps, my father arranged for me to attend a Catholic school—and one within walking distance. Hence the small classes—and five grades taught simultaneously by a single teacher; he would spend about five minutes on one grade then shift to the next—while those left behind had some task to perform…


Reminiscing in old age in the Age of Information is often quite an active business. Thus helped by Google Maps I was rapidly able to locate the swimming pool where we had spent many sunny afternoons—and, remembering the streets we walked to get there and to get back, I also managed, more or less accurately, I believe, to vaguely to locate where we had lived. To give a feel for the look of the place, I reproduce here a photograph taken by one Károly Héda titled “View from Eötvös Square” (link). The picture is recent, but it did really look like that once. The church in the distance is Holy Cross, so Catholicism is present. But for emphasis I am showing, in the second image, the Calvinist Great Church, as it is known, of Cegléd, from Wikipedia (link).

So who was Eötvös? As best I can discover, he was probably Loránd Eötvös (1848-1919), a well-known Hungarian physicist and the inventor of the torsion pendulum used in clocks; that process uses a heavy cylindrical weight, suspended on a spring, to provide the action of a pendulum. In my search I also discovered another Péter Eötvös (born 1944) who is a well-known composer and conductor. But the square, I think, belongs to Physics.

Now back to quince again. I show here the fruit, first, of the quince tree and, next, of the quince shrub. For a look at our own shrub, I suggest you check out this earlier post (link).


Amazing, really, the paths that memory produces—much like that of a donkey going from one cactus to the next. And elaborating in detail on all the little seeds one finds in memory’s catalogue, like that torsion pendulum for instance, would easily produce a volume. But a post, today, must suffice.

1 comment:

  1. Fun post. Perhaps this year we'll get some little quinces.
    Now, be sure and eat your quince butter!

    ReplyDelete