I adore this fruit.
There are a few foods I feel this way about. Rhubarb. Leeks. Celeriac. When I have a pile of quinces on the counter, I feel newly in love, tingly, unsure of what will happen next. I feel like I’ve discovered them. And I always have.
This is something I want to do more, that is, adore my food. We talk all about being connected to the source of our food, thinking consciously about the social implications of our food, blah, blah, blah. And I don’t blah because I don’t agree- of course I agree! But I think that for me, the heart of it is somewhere else. I want to love the food itself.
Simple as that might seem, let’s think about it together for a moment.
Have you ever come across a food that stunned you with its beauty? Was it the fertile curve of an eggplant? The flowering spike of an artichoke? Was it the swirling marble of a perfect cut of meat? The pale glow of a triangle of wonderful cheese?
And then, catching yourself admiring that very ingredient, you prepared it–washed it, chopped it, cooked it to a perfect softness in whatever way was appropriate… and then, you ate it?
How did it taste? And how did it feel?
When I eat quinces, I feel like I am consuming art and perfume and beauty. I feel like I am eating history.
And then, instead of cooking because I have to, I’m cooking because I am in love with this fruit. (Which, incidentally, can not be eaten raw, so cook it we must.)
Last week, when we were buried under the snow, a friend asked me what to do with quince. Her tree, it turned out, had dropped most of its fruit under the weight of the blizzard, and she could not keep up with them. Quince chutney! I told her, and poached quinces! And without trying to sound too excited so as to give myself away, I offered to dispense with some of the beloved fruit in my very own kitchen in exchange for the results of my labor.
And that is how I came to these particular quinces.
When quinces sit in the kitchen, they perfume the entire house. My mother, who does not like most smells, kept asking, “What is that sweetness?” and I told her quince! My sister hovered in that corner of the kitchen in particular, smiling and breathing in. And for those few days before I had my way with the fruit, I walked in the door and breathed deep. And like a lover who has come back to her beloved, I dropped my bag and, shoes still on, made my way to the kitchen for a deeper inhale before I fully arrived in the space of home again.
These quinces, 12 pounds in all, met two different fates. I was having a party, and dreamed of serving sweet cubes of membrillo with cheese, and so that was one.
And then, of course, there was jelly. That will be part two, soon, soon.
My friend Nikki showed up at the party with her fantastic pear ginger vodka. I held out the tray of membrillo with manchego, and confessed that although I was in love with the rosy little squares, I might just never make them again. She’s a cook too, and she laughed, I think, because she knew what it was to spend hours and hours making a 9×9 square of quince candy. And although I said it then, I think I’m taking it back. Because for my beloved quince, it’s always worth it. And if you are having the right kind of day filled with stirring and warmth in your kitchen, this will be worth it for you too.