Saturday, 3 November 2007

They Dined On


Edward Lear wasn't talking complete nonsense you know. The sheer romance of dining on quince would surely lead anyone to dance by the light of the moon.

Yesterday my son and I cooked a fair few quinces in a variety of ways. Above is poached quince which you simply stick in the oven with water and sugar and leave for three to four hours. We also made a tarte tatin with quince slices nestling among the apples. It was heavenly. A classy and very, very easy dessert. We spent an enjoyable hour or so in the kitchen. I have somehow acquired a second perching stool along the way (accepting the delivery in a fog before realising I already possess one) and so we perched together over the stove stirring bubbling quince jelly, making the tarte tatin and checking the oven every so often. The most beautiful scent filled the whole house. I hope my son will remember it as smells are just so evocative and we really did have a lovely time. He is becoming a highly skilled pastry chef. And he told me he's glad I'm cooking again. So am I.

It was one of my biggest losses when I became ill, to lose the ability to cook, and then later, to digest food. I remember crying my eyes out at a Radio 4 piece about a woman with cancer who described her last meal before having to give up solids altogether and be tube-fed for the rest of her short life. It will be ten years in February since my Dad died of cancer, and I think seeing him slowly robbed of the pleasures of eating was one of the hardest things to witness.

So for me, becoming reacquainted with food, pushing the boundaries, slipping up sometimes but generally now enjoying what I eat is something I never take for granted. I don't have cancer, but I did experience what malnutrition can do to you when you have a chronic illness. With single motherhood has come the necessity to cook far more regularly. This can be tiring, but rediscovering cooking, and I mean cooking for pleasure, has been a delight. I really believe that with careful planning ahead and a wise choice of low maintenance recipes it is possible to eat well and improve your quality of life in the process.

I have the Cottage Smallholder to thank for inspiration on the quince front. And I am reassured to know, reading her posts on quince jelly and other recipes, that I am not the only one to be smitten. What other fruit can give you cordial, syrup for ice cream, dulce de membrillo (served with cheese in Spain) and a tasty addition to apple pie? And then there's the jelly, which really is something else.



I think my current thing for making jam and chutney runs far deeper than I realised. It is helping me reconnect with food, and with nature. Fresh produce from the farmers' market, from the best orchards in England indeed, can be transformed into really wonderful stuff. It's also a memory thing, a bit like my love of photography. I do it because I enjoy it but also because for one with significant cognitive problems, it preserves the moment. Before cooking and photography too many moments were just lost to me. These are my anchors, my connections with life and the beauty around me. Remembrance of Things Present.

10 comments:

Cottage Smallholder said...

This is a brilliant post. Beautifully written. Quinces are an amazingly versatile fruit. Thanks for the link!

Sally said...

Quinces ... where ? I have never seen them offered for sale anywhere. One villager has a quince tree and keeps the produce, and what he produces, for his own consumption. I have heard what fabulous jelly it makes, and your gorgeous photos are the proof. I am off to visit the Cottage Smallholder for some virtual drooling. Thanks.

Elizabeth McClung said...

I am glad that cooking is good and has grounded you but I must say, I have never seen a more menacing picture of jams than that one - it is like a halloween jam pic. I didn't even know that pics of jam COULD be menacing but these definately have the "In one of these jars is a surprise human body part!" look (MAYBE this is sign I have been watching WAY too many horror films the last two weeks)

seahorse said...

Cottage Smallholder: I love your site so it's a pleasure to link to it. Thanks for the compliment. I seem to write best when I am either enthusing or ranting. Or reflecting. Or all three.

Sally: I was in a quinces...where? position a few weeks ago. The thing is, I live reasonably near the fruitbowl of England in Worcestershire and the Vale of Evesham, and all their produce floods the farmers' markets in the autumn. You just have to find the right market. But I can't imagine that in your beautiful part of the world there isn't a single quince to be found. Sod your Mr Mean neighbour. He'll get his comeuppance. His ears will turn to quinces if he's not careful.It is still quince season so I challenge you to find a box of Vranja before the month is out. You shouldn't pay more than a tenner, and you'll have enough to supply your whole locality with jelly in time for Christmas. Just put the word out that you are on a mission. It will bear fruit (groan).

Elizabeth: As I said to Sally earlier in the week I don't normally use webspeak but your comment merits another LOL! Yes, you have been watching too many horror films. Quince jelly is quite harmless. Halloween jam pic indeed.

cusp said...

Lovely images and lovely writing -- very evocative. I really love that idea about your passion for photography and making jams/jelleis etc. having a kinship in that they both preserve memories and kind of set them in amber. Fantastic revelation ---clever clogs ! ;-)

seahorse said...

Cusp: I love your amber analogy so much I've taken it further. You read my mind because the photo I've chosen for you in my latest post has been floating around my head since I took it a couple of weeks ago. I was just waiting for the right moment to post it. I think this is the moment :-)

marmiteboy said...

I have never had a quince but your description of tarte tatin with quince made my mouth water.

Cooking is soemthing I do less and less but when I do gather my strenght it is a real pleasure. it isn't even the eating that gives me pleasure as I often don't feel like it once I have prepared it. Putting together a dish is the thing and to see it appreciated by someone else is great. It is one of the best things in life.

seahorse said...

Marmiteboy: Totally with you. It's the act of making something and then giving it to someone else that's the real pleasure. I feel the same as you sometimes after preparing food, but if my son likes it then a) it's a bloody miracle and b) yes, it gives me pleasure just to have cooked up something nice for him to enjoy...although I do confess that when he was at a friend's yesterday evening I sneaked in a risotto just for me. Recipe to follow.

Reading the Signs said...

As soon as I saw the quince here I thought of the Owl and the Pussycat - and the runcible spoon. I spent years trying to find out where I could get a runcible spoon: only in the imagination, I think. I love the idea of "remembrance of things present". To re-member is to make things whole again, I think. I sometimes think that writing things down can also do this.
(Thank you for your comment at mine.)

seahorse said...

Runcible spoons are available on ebay. I too had fanciful notions of owning one, til I saw the price tag. The two I saw a while back were antique and started at around £100. Unfortunately there aren't any to be had at present. A runcible spoon would be a lovely thing to own though wouldn't it? Runcible is such a wonderful word. Runcible, runcible, runcible. Sigh.