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.