Quick! For those of you in New Zealand/southern hemisphere find some quince before winter truly takes hold. Make quince paste, jam or jelly, scrub the furry fruit, cut, roast and boil away, stock up for a whole winter of cheese boards. If you are like me at the moment this leap into action, this leap into the kitchen will be just the thing to anchor everything in place.
It’s been busy around here: assignments, uni club, assignments, an internship, fundraising sausage sizzle, more assignments and occasionally I have found time to work for actual money which is nice, because you know, the rent doesn’t pay itself. And amongst all the writing about historical print journalism, the political economy of modern news media, the role of a copy-editor and the rules of punctuation, I have helped on photography shoots, defrosted a 5cm wall of ice from my freezer, listened on repeat to an eclectic playlist – Bruce Springsteen, Macklemore, Angus and Julia Stone, the Beach House, Fleetwood Mac.
I’ve had a freezing weekend away in Christchurch, and have been reading up on HTML code, because now seems as good a time as any to become a code geek. I have been reading short stories and essays by and on Katherine Mansfield and I have been devouring anything written by Joan Didion, and God could these women write! I have eaten more kebabs, pizza slices and take-out sushi in the past couple of weeks than I’d like to admit and between our flat and Georgie being at home in Wellington for over a week, I have shared more bottles of wine than I’d like to admit.
What I’m leading up to here is that the days have been full and apart from the people and the wine and the great literature I am growing tired of this year. My parents commented the other day about how fast the year is going, can we believe we are a third through 2013 already? I said quite loudly and with a melodramatic exhale of breath, “Thank God!” I feel quite indifferent to the routines of going to class, sitting in a lecture hall, moving from one computer desk to another, moving from one essay writing assignment to another. These feelings are not new or particular to only myself – I think all students feel this as uni wraps up and new projects seem within reach.
Unfortunately these feelings of indifference have weedled their way into the kitchen, hence the take-out sushi, kebabs and pizza. But food – good food, real food – has an ability to make us take notice. I’ve written this before, of food’s power to redirect our attention and our priorities.
Autumn produce has been worthy of attention. Fresh figs, feijoas, quince, the most crisp, tart cooking apples and sweet, juicy eating apples. Local pears, the flesh the softest I have ever eaten and new golden kiwifruit, rich and mellow, quite different to their acidic, green cousins. The last of my summer tomatoes – green and peppery, and four of the most beautiful avocados, so oily and rich, from the tree at the olive grove. In the northern hemisphere people are heralding the arrival of spring produce in all its green glory, but I think we simply like the change in seasons, the chance to honour something new.
This autumn quince proved to be most interesting to cook with. It seems I haven’t learned that raw quince is very sour and shouldn’t be consumed in its raw state, no matter how fragrant it smells or buttercup yellow it is. But cooked into a thick, dark pink paste the quince becomes sweet, the fragrance intensifies, like roses and apples. My kitchen smelled wonderful. Quince paste is a relatively time consuming task but on the day I made it there seemed to be nothing more remedial than standing at the bench peeling the skins from the roasted fruit or stirring gently at the stove.
Perrin gave me the quince, passed on to him from a kindly fruit and vegetable shop owner up the road. The figs, scavenged from my neighbour’s tree (who perhaps does not realise figs are $22/kg, never picks them and let’s them ripen for the birds) were eaten in greedy, mischievous lust, ripped open to expose their pink beaded insides. While I stood in my kitchen stirring fruit paste I began to think about scavenged fruit, free fruit and reasons why it seems to feel special, treasured, honoured. Can we appreciate the downy skins of a quince or the crispness of an apple or the spurting juicy seeds of a tomato more when they come from somewhere we know? I don’t mean the supermarket we know, but if we can put a face, a place, a time, a field or a road to food I’m sure it’s likely to be more significant to the consumer and treated with all the respect it deserves.
So these are thoughts that occupy my mind at the moment – an argument for local, community eating. These thoughts and days spent at the stove are valuable and interesting. I make room for them, prioritise them, amongst everything else.
Lois Daish’s Quince Paste (Penny Porritt’s Quince Paste)
I love my Lois Daish book. Every time I look through it I vow to make a blog project out of it – to cook my way through the year with Lois Daish. As for Penny Porritt, I believe she was a Listener columnist at some point, but anyway Daish’s recipe comes from her.
Take your quince and scrub gently to remove the down. Place the whole fruit in a casserole pot or roasting dish and pour over 1/2 cup of water. Cover with a lid or tightly wrapped tin foil and bake at 150°C for 2-3 hours (closer to 3, I would say) until the fruit is pink and tender. Remove from the oven and when cool enough to handle, scrape off the skins, cut each quince in half and pull out the core.
Weigh the fruit and then purée in a blender or pass through a mouli. Place the pulp in a pot and measure out enough sugar to equal 3/4 the weight of the prepared quince. Add to the pan of purée and heat gently, stirring occasionally. Cook gently for about 45 minutes, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon. The paste is ready when it is so thick that you can drag a wooden spoon through the mix and still see the bottom of the pot.
Lightly oil a shallow heatproof container – I used a similar sized dish that I would make a brownie or slice in. Cool the quince paste for a few minutes and then scrape into the dish. Smooth the top and put somewhere warm and dry for a day or two (I left it in my switched off oven). Once dried out, cut the paste into blocks, wrap in baking paper and store in a plastic container in the fridge.