I went to the market on Sunday. It was one of those clear crisp Autumn days and the market was bustling with people. I bought quince, courgette, green beans, a leek, purple kumara, fuscia pink radishes and palm sized flat mushrooms. I overheard a french couple debating the merits of the leeks they had in their market bag: were they white enough? Oui. No, but pour la soupe, they must be very white. It made me smile.
At home on our kitchen bench was a bag of beautiful, soft, deeply purple figs; two bags of the most fragrant feijoas and five large round and squat sturmer apples. “The best cooking apples,” my mother said, “lip puckeringly, eye wateringly, back molar stingingly sour when eaten raw, but they cook up into sweet apple clouds.” I like that.
I haven’t really wanted to cook recently. Nor have I needed to. I have spent lots of time at home with my family in the past few weeks. When everyone is on holiday home is such a lovely place to be. My mother cooks, I read the recipes, we set the table, pour wine and enjoy a meal together. It is not very often there are four people around our table these days.
A return to my normal schedule left me feeling rather uninspired in the kitchen. All I needed though were some interesting ingredients, something a little out of the ordinary to make me sit up and take notice. I didn’t need to cook anything particularly outstanding, the ingredients would speak for themselves. I simply wanted some time to reacquaint myself with my own kitchen.
On Monday night I made a red and green vegetable soup using the bitter greens from radish and beetroot and spinach from our garden. The beetroot stalks turned the broth a milky mauve colour. It is quite an ugly soup, more of a vegetable stew really, so all is forgiven for being ugly. I imagine it would be great slumped over some brown rice, or even with a poached egg nestled among the strips of wilted greens.
On Tuesday morning I stewed the two sturmer apples and a quince. Quince is a surprisingly solid fruit. The canary yellow and downy skin could fool you into thinking it is soft and delicate. But the skin is tough and inside it is grainy and crisp. It smells almost tropical, like hot fermented fruit. That sweet tropical tang lasts when stewing. And the apples! My mother was right, apple clouds. I left the quince and apples to stew and after fifteen minutes I opened the pot lid to see puffs of pale apple, not unlike the look of crushed ice. Today, I have been snacking on cinnamon and vanilla french toast with thick unsweetened yoghurt and spoonfuls of stewed apples and quince.
On Wednesday afternoon my mother made Fig and Almond Tart: wonderfully crisp and buttery pastry with a sweet almond filling and fig halves, cut side up. The almond filling rose around the figs, holding the juices in their frond-like interior.
Happy Eating everybody!