Saturday, September 25, 2010

Pears? Nope!

In our front yard is a tree that has become a tree of note in the neighborhood, not because it is beautiful but because of its fruit.  People are forever asking me "What kind of pear tree is that".  My reply, "It's not a pear its a quince" which usually brings about puzzled looks and more questions.  It is not the more common "Flowering Quince" we see blooming in early spring but Cydonia oblonga, an actually tree that is quite hardy and relatively pest free.  I purchased the tree for myself as a gift (from my husband) about 8 years ago and it has been the source of many conversations since.
Its not a pear its a quince fruit.

I first became acquainted with quince trees during my stint volunteering in the garden at the Zimmerman Heritage Farm Park in Gresham Oregon, where  the world of plants and the Oregon Trail Pioneers that brought them opened up to me.  It is a fascinating historical study and one I highly recommend as there are many heart warming stories as well as practical aspects of plants and their importance to this period of time.  Its also interesting to see how many of those plants are still in favor in our gardens today.  Most all of what the pioneers grew had to be able to do well without too much fuss and made this wild new place feel more like home.  This appealed to my practical sensibilities and so when I discovered quince trees I decided it was a must for my garden as well.

Quince are a related to pears and apples and actually looks more like a pear. A word of caution though...they are not sweet like their cousins but quite tart and very firm making them perfect for preserving and baking but hardly a fruit to pick off the tree and just take a bite of.   Sauce made from this tart fruit is a favorite at our house and is perfect on waffles or toast or to use in banana bread or other baking as it works like applesauce if you are trying to reduce the fat content in recipes.  I must also make at least one Quince tart with pastry cream which I decided must be the traditional harvest celebration dish each year.  The fruit because it does not get mushy when cooked makes really good chunky quince bread that is similar to apple bread only the quince has a great tang to it.  (Apologies here as pictures of that will have to wait as the fruit is just now cooking and there is not tart yet.)  If you like tangy fruit you will love quince.
Quince pie using frozen fruit and store bought crust
I remember when I bought my little sapling tree.  I was so happy!  My husband, who thinks that all trees without leaves look like twigs was pretty disappointed in my choice.  He did a fair amount of speaking his mind about my choice and to this day I think he would rather have a fir tree in the front yard than a fruit tree.  He is however, quite thankful for the sauce and pastries that show up when the fruit from that tree that bothers him so much is turned into some of his favorite food, a thing I too am thankful for.

Yesterday I harvested the fruit from our tree.  This takes a bit of doing as the leaves are so large the eclipse the fruit making it a real hunt and peck exercise.  I have this great fruit picker tool that has really helped as the tree is now too large for us to reach it all from the ground and the branches so low that its a challenge to get a ladder beneath.  It took me a good half hour to pick what I could reach with two fruit being completely unreachable and left for my taller husband to get.

Its time to gather the fruit in when they begin to fall from the tree.  Around here that would be in late September or possibly earlier if the winds are blowing a lot.  If you are in a windy area like we are you may find it a good idea to pick the fruit a bit green.  The variety of quince I purchased has fruit that is quite large so it tends to blow off pretty easily if I'm not attentive to harvesting it before the wind forces the fruit off the branches.  You don't want to get hit by a falling fruit, they hurt!  I got clobbered by one yesterday that I probably should have left for my dear husband to pick.  I think it left a lump too.  (ouch!)

A couple years ago the tree was at its peak in production and we had so much fruit the branches were nearly breaking.  Well actually one did break off three years ago.  I used to walk every morning and as I left I made a mental note to prop up that branch so it wouldn't break but before I could get back home it began to mist and just that little bit of extra weight caused that rather large limb to snap from the trunk.  I will never again wait to prop up a fruit laden branch again.  My hubby, who complains about the tree, sprang into action to try and safe the branch and finally ended up cutting off the torn branch and pinning the split trunk back together with a plastic coated bolt which worked quite well.  Our poor tree has never been the same since and is finally getting back to some good level of fruiting.

Peppermint candy buds
The first spring the tree bloomed I was delighted by the appearance of pink spiraling buds that reminded me a lot of peppermint candy and which turned into these pink marshmallow-like flowers at the tips of the branches.  The blooms are much larger than apple or pear trees making it quite a show when in bloom.

Quince harvest 2010
Quince fruit, though firm, tend to bruise quite easily and will rot quickly if they are damaged so today I was busy dealing with about a third of the fruit that I had harvested.  This picture may not look like much but some of the fruit weight as much as one pound each and are the size of grapefruit.  Also good to note here is that it takes some strength just to cut them up because of how firm the flesh is.  Be sure you have a stable work are and a good sharp knife.

You may notice the flower end or bottom of the fruit getting a brown patch in on it.  Those need to be processed right away so the fruit won't totally spoil.  I still need to find out what causes this.  I know that bruising does this easily to the fruit when they fall.  I found a beautiful huge quince on the ground spoiled as I didn't see it until it was too late.  I just hate when that happens.

I use a large chef's knife to cut into mine.  Sharp is a very good thing when it comes to knives and a dull knife is a dangerous knife, especially when cutting into quince.  Don't be surprised when the flesh browns easily even if put into a bath of water and lemon juice, that's just the nature of this fruit and honestly I don't worry one fig about it.  Once the fruit is cooked it takes on more of a pink color anyway so the browning will be a distant memory.

On trick I learned to get the fruit as pink as you can is to cook it with the peel on.  They say you should also include some of the seeds while cooking as they are coated with a lot of pectin and can help thicken the liquid in the pot.  Historical factoid time....The ladies in the late 1800 used to save the quince seeds and put a few in a bowl with a bit of water to create the first hair styling gel.  Now that is making good use out of all the fruit I'd say.  Keep the cook looking pretty and the family well fed.  I tried making the gel once and found the seeds are indeed coated with quite a bit of pectin and when enough of them are added to a small bit of water it does produce a gel.

Another characteristic of the fruit is that it's flesh is rather grainy in texture, especially near the core and even after being cooked.  Its not a bad thing, just different.  I would recommend for those of you who don't like this type of texture to strain the fruit in a wire sieve to get a smoother product.

Fuzz rubs off easily
Leaves are fuzzy on the bottom and smooth on the top.
Quince leaves and fruit have this fuzz on them that can be quite annoying if breathed.  As I was picking yesterday I found myself coughing a lot because of it and wishing I had put on a particle mask before I began.  It was more annoying than dangerous though so I just kept going and did fine.

Wetting the fuzz to keep it from flying around.

To get off the fuzz on the fruit I put it in a water bath to wet the fuzz so it won't float around as I'm removing it from the skin.  I use a cotton dish rag to wipe away the fuzz and then rinse the fruit under running water to remove the loose particles left over.
Note the granular texture of the flesh in this picture
Next I cut the tops and bottoms off so I can slice down the center easier (Remember this is a very firm fruit and having fruit that can roll out from under the knife is a dangerous thing.)

Note the browning even though they were in lemon juice and water.

I cut the fruit in large-ish chunks, removing the bruises and core, popped them into a water and lemon juice bath (a habit from working with apples), drained them and put them into the crock pot for processing.  These take a while to cook so a crock pot works really nicely and frees you up from being tied to watching a pot on the stove.  One thing to note here is that if you want to peel the fruit prior to chopping up go right ahead.  The finished product will not be as rosy colored is all.

Crock pot full of goodness
Finally I add a couple cups of sugar to sweeten these very tart fruit, a bit of water to the bottom, put the lid on and go about my day.  I love the freedom the crock pot gives me from having to watch a pot on the stove.

Once the fruit is done cooking I will run it through my food mill for sauce or butter, which takes a bit more cooking and reserve any liquid in the bottom for reducing into a nice syrup for glazing, pie making or adding to fresh lemonade.  For those of you who like jelly, this fruit makes fine jelly and because of the pectin content.

So I just checked the crockpot and the fruit has gone from greenish skins and brownish flesh to a wonderful more even golden color.  My mouth is watering and I'm off to find that tart recipe I used last year.  Oh and one more thing...this cooked fruit freezes really well too.

Now its time to go make dinner.  Stay tuned for the finale and happy gardening!

To learn more about the Zimmerman Heritage Farm Park at

Copyright © 2010 by Patty Hicks

All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including printing, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without written permission from the author, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review. All reviews must include author's name and a link back to this blog.

Friday, September 24, 2010

It's an Invasion!!!

Yesterday I posted about Stink bugs and the concern I had about them being a non-native invasive fears were confirmed.  Now the war begins.  You should see the list of host plants for this creature.  It's long and contains many common garden plants.  Here is the quoted email response I received and a few more pictures.  (big sigh)
Brown Marmorated Stink Bug Nymph (no wings yet)

Gee they come in colors too!
"A note from Ms. Lisa DeBruyckere :
Hi Patricia, thank you for the report and excellent photos.

This bug is native to Asia, but is known to be established in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Oregon. Hosts include maple, serviceberry, birch, butterflybush, pepper, pecan, catalpa, hackberry, redbud, citrus, dogwood, cucumber, fig, sunflower, honeysuckle, tomato, apple, plum, pear, rose, lilac, linden, viburnum and grape. Adults emerge from overwintering in April. Eggs are 1/16 of an inch, pale green and laid from June to August. Most egg masses have about 25 eggs. The nymphal stages do not have developed wings. Size ranges from 1/8 to 3/4 of an inch as the insect grows and molts. Nymphs are first red, turning almost black, and then finally becoming brown as adults. They are the typical "shield" shape of other stink bugs, almost as wide as they are long. Injuries caused by feeding produce small necrotic areas on the outer surface of fruits and leaves. Scarring is common on fruits such as apple and peach. On other plants may have roughly circular stippled areas about 1/8 inch!
 wide. Only one generation has been observed; however, there are likely to be multiple generations as it spreads south. Adults begin overwintering at the end of September and become a nuisance as large numbers congregate and invade buildings in search of overwintering sites.

You can read more about this invasive species at

Unfortunately, this species has become established in the Portland metropolitan area.

Lisa DeBruyckere, Oregon Invasive Species Council Coordinator"
Its good to get sizes and dates too when submitting reports on bugs.

By the way I collected some 15 bugs in my little kill jar yesterday in about 5 minutes.  This is definitely a stinking good year for this bug.  Lets hope that next year is not so good.  Guess I get to go pick more bugs today.  This is just the craziest thing to me.  I had never seen them before this year and I've gardened here for nearly 20 years.  At least I know the enemy now and can arm myself accordingly.

Happy Gardening, I'm off to go pick bugs.

Copyright © 2010 by Patty Hicks

All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including printing, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without written permission from the author, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review. All reviews must include author's name and a link back to this blog.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Every Year a Different Bug

Stink bug nymphs on Fig leaf.

This year was the coolest summer on record here in Portland Oregon and throughout the Pacific NW.  You can hear people everywhere whining about green tomatoes and then the screech of their mental brakes as the switch gears to try and figure out how to use the green ones they now have a bounty of.  Me, my switch was to put up a big ol' tent over the top of my tomatoes to get some ripe ones.  But that's not what I'm writing about today.  Today it's all about bugs.  Stink bugs to be specific.  Like those ones we used to smash as kids that gave off a sweet stink...those bugs.

Stink bugs look a lot like beetles but have a very specific identifying mark, a triangular shaped shield on their backs at the shoulders.  Most are pests but some are good guys like the soldier bug and the minute pirate bug.  Its good to get to know which is which so you are not smashing the good guys just because they are bugs.

How I got started on all this was the discovery of what look to be Brown Marmorated Stink Bug nymphs that hatched out on my fig tree and which quickly found my purple orach where they happily sucked way...that's what stink bugs do...suck. It seems the orach is good trap plant to have so you can see if you have stink bugs as they sure love that plant and mine was loaded with them.  Oh and if you decide to try this at home and find you have the bugs, here's a tip...they brush  off into a bug jar quite easily (that would be a "killing jar" aka a jar with alcohol in it for killing the bugs).  The kids just love collecting bugs this way.

The bugs were first spotted when I was visiting with a guest in my garden.  It was actually my guest who first spied the egg mass and nymphs on one of the leaves on my fig tree.  They looked sort of cute being in the nymph stage and all, but somehow they they still just made my skin crawl.  Makes me wonder if I have some sort of gardener's safety alarm that can sense danger sometimes.  (Or, maybe I've seen to many old horror movies like Attack of the Killer Ants.)

Not really sure what kind of insect they were I posted my photos to the ID query at Bug Guide, an internet site where a lot of entomology geeks hang out.  Within a few days I received a response back that they appeared to be the Brown Marmorated (whatever that means) Stink Bug.  Further investigation of my little invaders led me to find they are an  non-native invasive species from the Orient that is an orchard pest and loves to make its way into homes for the winter more than other stink bugs...and they can really stink up the place when disturbed and will mark their new found winter abode with a little buggy perfume.  The releasing of this odor is their way of noting that this home of yours and mine is a good nesting site too. Oh the joy.   

Other information stated that these bug have no predators in our region bringing home another reality...that this bug has all the potential of being an all out garden thug and vigilance is required.  Oregon State University info recommended contacting the Invasive species hotline if anyone thinks they have these bugs...which it seems is the case and which I will gladly do.  (Well all this just makes my day, let me tell I don't have enough to deal with with all the other garden battles I have with native pests.)

Another factoid about that stink they produce; it is part of what keeps them from being food for predators, so once established they are pretty free to procreate and suck away unless we humans do something about it.  Pheromone traps, hand collecting, insecticides may all have to come into play to keep them at bay. (Ok don't hate me for saying the insecticide word...this is war and it would only be used on host plants and very judiciously if it comes to that.)

This information also made me aware that these bugs are of some economic concern for the region I live in being that they are a pest to fruit trees, causing cat facing on the fruit, which is a dimpling effect that makes fruit unsaleable for most commercial markets.  It seems they also likes fig trees.  (NO NOT MY FIG TREE!  I love my fig tree.  They can't have my fig tree!  Its mine!!!) That is probably why we spotted the newly hatched egg mass with its pile-o-bugglets on one of the leaves...darn!

When I saw little invaders I must confess I sort of didn't care who they were, I only wanted them dead just in case they were pests. Carefully removing the leaf from the tree so the bugglets wouldn't drop off, (after I got my photos of course) I put it on the ground and commenced to do the "You ain't gonna get my plants" dance with my foot squarely planted on top of the bugs, smashing and grinding them into the soil where I knew their smashed-to-smithereens bodies would at least feed the plants and prohibit them from being able to do any dirty work themselves.  I did this however, with some apology just in case they were not bad guys, but I was not willing to take chances as I have a pretty good knowledge of beneficial insects and these being strange bugs had to die.  The funny thing is, that leaf, it was right at eye level and quite close to the path so how I missed it before is beyond me.  Guess I must be looking at the ground too much and will have to start taking note of my precious fig a bit more from now on too.

Stink bug on Purple Orach stem
Another one of those "Yuck!" moments was when I went to harvest the seed-laden branches of my Purple Orach and took them into my kitchen but didn't see the pile-o-bugs that had take up residence on the plants.  I laid out the Orach branches on a paper towel for drying and when I came back later that day to make dinner discovered I had some unwanted guests that had quickly found the bowl of apples, summer squash and which were also standing tall on the branches I had just laid down on the counter a short time before.  (shudder)  I am not bug phobic for the most part but this was more like an invasion and that gave me the willies.  I'm tellin' ya...this is the stuff of nightmares.  From now on I will be checking those branches more carefully.  These days I can still find some bugs on the beans, ripe sunflower heads and other seed bearing plants. I hope they don't like butternut squash and cucumbers.  (Lord have mercy)

Oh the title of this post was "Every Year a Different Bug"...last year it was cut worm, the year before the earwig and this year its the year of the stink bug.  Gee I'm so excited...(big sigh)

So if something smells sweet but stinky in you home this winter...don't think its in the compost bucket that needs to be taken out...just start looking for stink bugs.

Happy Gardening!

If you think you have found an invasive species in the state of Oregon please report it.  For more information go to

Copyright © 2010 by Patty Hicks

All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including printing, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without written permission from the author, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review. All reviews must include author's name and a link back to this blog.