Every year in anticipation of Spring, the flowering quince just outside of the office window provides a show of color at unusual times during the year. In December, the bush was in bud and actually provided some blooms for Christmas enjoyment. With the many variables of the winter season, and unusually warm temperatures this year, the quince bush was confused and began producing blooms.
Despite the seasonal schizophrenia the plant does indeed bloom in the spring and on occasion produces a few quince fruit. Over the years I have had occasion to sample quince jellies, however have no concept on how one actually makes quince jellies! It seems that the lost art of canning and making jellies is lost in our American society, despite the fact that we indeed enjoy the gustatory delights of such efforts!
Flowering quince, chaenomeles cathayensis is native to western China and produces pear shaped fruits. The flowers are either white or pink. Quince bushes are most favored as ornamental plants in the local garden, and their fruits are usually disregarded by most people. The fruit when raw is sometimes bitter and astringent. Usually, after the first frost, the fruit is picked and is more palatable for preserving and making jellies. Quince fruits are bletted, which requires the ripened fruit to further ripen on an absorbent material, sometimes straw or sawdust. The process permits further ripening of the fruit and the cellular structures are changed and the fruit becomes soft and pliable. After this process the the sugars in the fruit are more dominant and permit the fruit to be eaten with a spoon, directly from the skins.
As always, plants have a particular and unique relationship to events of my own life. The quince in particular is a bush frequently represented in Chinese and Japanese drawings and many references to the fruit are made in their literary works. It is a herald of Spring in the Oriental world and is widely celebrated in artistic works and is majestically portrayed often with great celebrations of joy and anticipation, such as weddings and the birth of new children.
As far as the bush is concerned, at one time in my own experience, I took it on myself to beautify the facade of the old Upper Side at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary. At the time, the landscape outside the building was void of any bushes and flowering vegetation. It was suffering from the institutional practice of just using turf to make everything green, and neglecting the landscaping that would have been there in the 19th century. So, I planted six quince bushes in order to accentuate the architectural details of the colonnade and the entablature that graced the exterior of the building. It was the customary path, all of us students used when returning from meals on the Lower Side of the campus, which was the college division of Saint Charles Seminary. The green vegetation with the contrasting floral displays the following year was a spectacular show of color and a celebration of form. The bush complimented the details of the harsh architecture of the building and softened the harshness of the stark and cold exterior of the old Upper Side.
Almost thirty-five years later, the bushes I planted are long gone at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary and once again the institutional starkness of just turf has again returned to the building. The facade has been substantially changed in the area of the Ryan Memorial Library with new adaptations which accompanied the renovation of the library which was an old friend and a place of scholarship and solitude among the many stacks of ancient volumes of theological and philosophical works. The library is now referred to as The Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua Research Center at the Ryan Memorial Library, but remains, “The Ryan,” to generations of alumni of this illustrious institution.
Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary currently is undergoing a process of conslidation of both the college division and the theology division into one operating campus. The distinctions of Upper and Lower Side will soon be consigned to history and memory. However, it was the flowering quince that hold special significance of my own personal recollections of the then 150 acres plus campus. When all of the renovations and consolidations are completed, I hope the architects and the builders take the asthetics of the campus into consideration and replace the flowering quince, restore the lilac bushes, replant new multicolored rows of azaleas to not only enhance the beauty of the consolidated campus, but to remember the pastoral serenity of the old expanse of lawns and shrubbery that once graced Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in its , “days of glory!”
Perhaps the newly renovated campus will recall that when the institution began, men went to the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul via horse-drawn carriages to receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders. This era celebrated the spiritual and personal achievements of its graduates with sacramental solemnity, submersed in traditions, pride and simple grandeur that was part of everyday life. Greenery, rolling green hills and arboreal specimens witnessed almost two centuries of events at Overbrook, along with a singular row of flowering quince…remember the history, live in the present and celebrate the future! Make the consolidated campus a place where great men, and positive memories are made that include memories of the beauty of the campus and its landscaping.