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Planting, growing and harvesting japonica fruit E-mail

As well as producing gorgeous blossoms, japonica plants also grow a quince-like fruit which can be made into a jelly.

More commonly referred to as Japonica in this country, Chaenomeles speciosa or flowering quince, is a valuable bushy deciduous shrub producing late winter to early spring display of flowers on bare branches. Despite the common name Japonica, meaning Japanese, the shrub usually grown in New Zealand is of Chinese origin.

Japonicas are invaluable for their production of large numbers of flowers, displayed to perfection on bare branchlets, often at a time of year when there is not much else on show in the garden. The flowers, ranging from white, apricot-pink through to deep pinks and true reds, are often followed by small quince-like yellowish fruits in the autumn which make excellent jelly.

They need to be planted in an open sunny position and are not particularly fussy as to soil, but do best in a good loam enriched with composted material. Some varieties are dwarf shrubs growing only about 80cm tall while others are quite large, up to 3m.

The taller varieties such as the commonly seen pink form can make a wonderful hedging plant. Naturally much branched, the repond well to clipping making a dense inpenetrable hedge which looks amazing when in flower as early as late July in the milder parts of Nelson.

According to the books, they are all easily propogated from cuttings of semi-ripe wood taken in January and February. I must admit that I haven't had much luck with them as cuttings, but have had good success raising them from suckers. Some plants sucker freely, especially in moister conditions, and these seem to take root much more readily.

The fibrous roots will develop quickly from the wooly underground portions of these detached suckers inserted in a sandy cutting mix in the autumn. I have not tried growing them from seed, but apparently it germinates well but does not breed true to the colour. Some of the smaller varieties would be suitable as container plants, and some larger types look sumptuous espaliered against a wall.

A friend grew the variety rowallane against a stuccoed shed wall where its long branches were trained on horizontal wires. Rowallane has flowers of the deepest blood crimson with golden stamens making it very spectacular. I remember my mother gathering japonica "apples" from the shrubs in her garden to make the delicious amber-pink jelly which accompanied the then traditional sunday roast.

The hard green fruit is havested when turned fully yellow, usually by mid winter. To make japonica jelly:

The apples are cleaned and any spoilt bits cut out. They don't need to be peeled and are cut into small small pieces in a saucepan and brought to the boil after just covering them with water. Ordinary apples, crab apples, and quinces can be incorporated into the the recipe if you do not have enough japonica apples.

When the fruit has softened it is mashed and put into a cloth such as a flour bag or old pillowcase and hung up overnight above a bowl to catch the strained liquids. To this strained liquid, add one cup of white sugar for each cup of liquid. In a saucepan stir the mixture until sugar is dissolved and return to heat and bring to the boil, stirring frequently.

After boiling and stirring for some time the liquid will darken in colour. At this stage take a teaspoonful and place it on a cold surface such as a china saucer, where ready it should harden into a soft jelly when cool. If not, continue boiling on the stove.

When the test froms a soft jelly on the saucer the mixture is ready for bottling into small lidded jars such as commercial jam jars. They can be sealed with cellophane jam covers. Store in the cupboard or in the fridge. Delicious on toast, with cheese or as a side on any cold platter!

Article from The Nelson Leader, September 25, 2008


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