History of Greek Food



  • The name of the first common Greek quince variety is kydonion melon, which means the apple from Kydonia. Kydonia was the principal Minoan city in the west of Crete and quince may have been indigenous to it.  The kydonion melon is mentioned in Greek poetry of 6th century BC. Strouthion melon, the second very known variety, appeared in the 4th century.
  • The Greeks dedicated the quince to Aphrodite. The godess was often represented with the golden apple of Esperides in her right hand, the fruit with which she was awarded by Paris. This legendary fuit, was in fact a quince. So, it is not accidental that the quince was regarded as symbol of Love and Fertility. Plutarch mentions the ancient wedding custom of a quince eating by the bride and the bridegroom, a custom that intended to insure fertility. (Plutarch’s Lives, Solon 20)
  • Ancient Greeks estimated the medicinal values not only of the fruit but also of its extract. In Hellenistic period, Ikesios Smyrnaios mentioned the digestive virtues of the quince extract. He also proposed that it as a perfect companion to wine and a good medicine for lethargic fever (‘About material’). The island of Cos produced a famous quince extract.
  • In past, quince was on the top of the list of fruits, because of its high natural pectin content. Byzantines  regardered it as a digestible fruit and kept on making a wine from quinces that was already mentioned in texts of 1st AD. The kydonaton, a thick quince jelly, was the serious Byzantine contribution to the quince’s subject. The name (and the preparation) of this popular preserve was probably the ancestor of French cotignac or condoignac, a high appreciated jelly of 16th and 17th century. This delicacy was considered as a gift for kings, since it was made with honey of fine quality, good wine and spices.
  • Until the end of 1960s, a meal or a visit ended with a spoon- sweet called peltes*. Although it had its origin in Byzantine kydonaton, the name  bears witness to the long Ottoman domination of Greece.  It was served in small silver bowls, surrounded by glasses of water and the guests after eating it with a spoon, used to take a sip of water and place the spoon in the glass.
  • The quince jelly is not very popular today; however, in autumn the traditional Greek households prepare grated quince spoon sweet which is served by its own or on the top of strained yogourt.
  • Quinces stuffed with nuts or rice pudding, baked in oven, are mentioned in the personal cooknotes and women’s magazines of the first decade of 20th century.
  • Burying quinces in hot ashes for most of the day and serving them hot, sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, was a rather common practice in the villages of Western Crete.
  • The high acidity of the quince counteracts the greasiness of the foods, so it is a balanced companion to fat meats. Until nowadays, Zakynthians (Ionic islands), serve the Christmas turkey or meat with mostarda dolce, a sweet mustard of medieval origin, which is made with quinces boiled in sweet wine or must.
  • Lamb, pork and fat castrated cocks are cooked or baked with quinces in several traditional recipes, although this combination is not quite in fashion today.
  • The recipes of stuffed quinces begun to appear in the big cities of Greece during the last decades of 19th century. Quinces stuffed with minced meat and/or mushrooms are mentioned in the women magazines of 1890. Some years later, pine nuts were added to the minced meat’s stuffing, impling the impact of the eating habits of Greeks who came to mainland from Asia minor in 1922, after the Greek defeat by the Turks. In fact, the combination of sour fruits, such as quinces, is traced back to ancient Iran.
  • It is very interesting that towards the close of the first decade of 20th century, smashed quinces appeared in elaborated recipes of sweet omelletes  or pastitichios with layers of mashed quinces and pieces of ham or breasts of birds.

Stuffed quinces (1919, Anna’s Kandilieri cook-notes) ‘Take whole quinces. Peel them well and cut the upper part. Dig with a small knife and fill with well pounded almonds, 1 beaten egg and some honey. Dissolve a cup of honey into water, pour it over the quinces and send them to the oven.”

*Ottoman word of Iranian origin.  



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5 thoughts on “Quince

  1. Mad Latinist

    The stuffed quince recipe reminds me of Oribasius’ recipe for honey-filled quinces. I can’t seem to find the Greek text on line, but as I recall it goes something like this: hollow out the quinces, fill with honey, coat them in dough (which also reseals them), bake in ashes until the dough burns, peel off the dough and eat.

  2. maria

    how inspiring that you have anna kandilieri’s notes to refer to…
    i have kept my mother’s original cookbook, but it is mainly a list of ingredients


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