Everything we eat has a story. A story about where it came from, how it was made, born, or spouted; and how it travelled toward us.
Everything we eat also becomes part of our own story. A link in the web of meaning that flavour holds for us. Each bit of sustenance that passes over our lips has the potential to start a story, or to stir up a memory.
Quince, for me, is winter. It’s granny food. It exists, in bottled form, on the colour scale from fleshy crayfish to sensuous stripper red. It’s neatly layered in conserve bottled, lids tightly screwed on.
I don’t really remember by granny ever making anything with quince. Maybe she did, and I only associate it with her because the senses of smell and roots of nostalgia were affixed in me before my visual memories. Maybe I associate quince with the wrinkled faces of old women I saw as we paused at farm stalls across the country during family holidays. Neatly packed in rows with handwritten labels. Part of the granny-domain.
Either way, I walked into a local supermarket last week in a post-exam daze. My mind was still whirling with theories and ethnographic accounts. I was craving something I couldn’t name.
I saw the quince, bright yellow, bulbous on the shelf, larger than the surrounding fruit. I knew immediately that they were what I needed. I selected three, smooth skinned and heavy for their weight.
Quince poached in rosé wine with orange and vanilla
I bought them home, and started to put the exam out of my mind as I emptied the bottle of rosé wine (merlot and pintoage) that I had bought into a saucepan with 1 cup of sugar and 1 orange, cut into wedges. I peeled the three quinces one by one, with a peeler, nibbling at the skin to gauge it. Apple-y and sour, strong.
Then I tackled the flesh. Quince are hard fruit, similar to apples and pears in that they have seeds in the centre. I used my biggest knife to cut them in half first, bearing two pretty halves, like a cross-section of a heart. (Using a baby serrated knife might lead to breaking the blade). I cut them into slices and removed the seeds. You also have to cut out the hard bits around the seed section.
As I cut them, I placed the slices into the pot, added enough water so that they were all covered, and then put it all on medium heat to simmer. After about an hour I added 3 vanilla pods that I had hanging around the cupboard, wrinkled up and dry. They were plumped out after an hour or so, so I slit them in half lengthways and dropped the seeds in, leaving the pods too.
After about 2 and a half hours over medium heat, my quinces gave way to being poked with a knife. If I had left them on longer, they would have turned a ruby colour, but I had cut the slices a little too thinly, and I didn’t want quince jam.
I ate some for breakfast today, and I baked the rest, along with 3 apples that were going begging, into a saucy crumble that warmed us from the inside. (See the apple crumble post I did here, and use that basis. Although I multiplied it by two, you will have to judge how much quince you are using for the crumble part).
The latest chapter in my quince story is a passionate one. The colour of the fruit matches my tongue; the syrup is gloss on my lips. To bite it is to kiss it.