Sunday, October 14, 2007
The fruit of love
Buying food couldn't be easier at this time of year, as the market stalls beckon with the voluptuous and bizarre: jet-black trompette de la mort mushrooms, deep-orange, pointy-tipped squash known as potimarrons, fennel with feathery fronds as long as my arm. Finding time to prepare these treasures can be more of a challenge.
That's why the most beautiful quinces have been occupying the bottom drawer of my refrigerator for the past week. Green-golden, cheekily curvaceous and downy skinned, with a delicate, almost lemony scent, they beg to be picked up and caressed or captured in a still life (if only I could paint). But peeling and cutting them is less romantic proposition. Surely the most stubborn and resistant of fruits, quinces - like love - are a pleasure that has to be earned. No wonder they are the symbol of Venus, who is always portrayed holding a quince.
Quinces are too hard and astringent to eat raw, requiring at least 250 grams of sugar per kilo of fruit (or 1 cup of sugar per 2 lbs) before they melt in syrupy sweetness on the tongue. Usually at this time of year I poach them in a syrup with cinnamon and star anise. This week, though, I have been wanting to try something new. Loulou, my source of all local fruit knowledge and grower of these quinces, likes to stew them with duck in a Moroccan tagine. He sells quince paste by the slab, to be eaten as a sweet or matched with cheese, and produces a clear, rose-colored quince jelly that sparkles in the sunlight. Tempting as all of these possibilities are, I happened to visit his stand this morning just as another customer was enthusing about her favorite new recipe for quinces. My ears visibly perked up, as they always do when recipes are discussed and debated at the market.
I haven't quite got around to confronting my quinces yet - it's been a lazy Sunday - but I'm sharpening my paring knife and within a day or two I'll be back with this unusual recipe.