Did I want kittens, a friend called to ask.
Oh, perhaps one, but not more, I thought to myself.
‘They’re yellow,’ she quickly went on.
This was getting rather interesting. Yellow kittens?
‘And they have this marvelous scent. Just one can perfume a room.’
A yellow kitten. Strongly scented. Curioser and curioser.
‘I don’t know the English word for them. Kinces?’
Oh…OH…!! QUINCES! I heard you say ‘kittens!’
And that is how I now have sitting in my kitchen and perfuming the entire space plus the dining room and beyond — basketfuls of quinces. I could smell them from the stairs as I went down to breakfast this morning. What a delight quinces are!
I had planted a quince tree in my Leamington garden. It must have been the most northerly garden to have one. Quinces are an ancient fruit and feature prominently in medieval recipes for various confits and preserves, like the French cotignac. But since they have to be cooked to be eaten, quinces have fallen into disfavour. There is a round, apple-shaped variety which my Turkish friend and I love to eat raw, savouring the slightly astringent, sweet-sourness, much as Southeast Asians, including myself, fall greedily upon slightly underripe mangoes.
Every year once the tree started fruiting, M would make membrillo. Long, involved cooking processes like Peking duck and membrillo making, which take over three days, are his specialty. Ours was such a generous tree – and we would give out quite a lot to the neighbours and friends, and there would still be more. Quince jelly with a delicate pink tint or a bright ruby (if the fruits are made to oxidize further), quinces in vodka, stewed quinces — there are endless ways of cooking them. Quinces are also lovely partnered in a savoury main dish, as they do in Morocco or Iran. Cut them in half – just rub off and wash out the fuzz, no need to peel, take out the core — and roast them slowly, nestled among spiced chicken pieces or other meat, and they impart such a divine fragrance. And of course there’s Aphrodite’s pudding – quinces grated and mixed with croissant crumbs and a rich custard cream and put to bake gently. Ahhh, so many possibilities for these wonderful autumn fruits. Thank you, my dear friend, for these golden, perfumed quinces.
Another thing for which I am grateful today are flowers that continue to brighten my day. The Gloriosa lilies and the clematis are still looking wonderful. As are the nasturtiums, despite being trampled on by the water pipe construction crew and passers-by, trying to avoid falling into the gaping pit outside.
And I finally found some huge caps of shiitake! They made a splendid dish – slowly cooked in olive oil and then stuffed with the chopped up stems and spring onions. With a tender cob of corn, they made a lovely light supper.
Fruits, flowers, fungi – what wonderful and beautiful bounty! For these gracious blessings and more — for enabling my family and me to be whole and sound, on this the 28th day of my gratitude journal — I am truly grateful.