Saturday, June 12, 2010
Our parents help shape who we are. Some of their influence comes through genetics (e.g. my bizarre mixture of pale, freckled skin and afro hair) and some through years of successful brainwashing (e.g. my love of all things healthy and green.) I’m not sure which one of these powerful sources has influenced the way I feel about winter…
As we edge further and deeper into the winter months, I worry not so much about the cold, as the dark. I think about the next couple of months less as “the big freeze” and more as “the long dark”. Like my father, I’ve taken to counting the days until we reach the official shortest day of the year, and then breathe a sigh of relief as the days continue to get colder but start brightening a little more each day.
I think the thing is that there’s always a cure for the cold. Crank up the heater or light a fire, throw on an extra jumper, pull out your winter pajamas, wrap yourself in a woolen blanket and read your book. There is no cure for dark mornings, grey days and afternoons like midnight. Or is there? How about something that heats your house as it cooks on the stove at a bare simmer, or in a very low oven for hours? That fills the house with smells of vanilla and spices? And that most importantly splashes cheerful bright pink all over your morning porridge? How about gorgeous ruby red poached quinces!?
Before it’s cooked to pink perfection, the quince is quite an unprepossessing fruit, yellowy-green, lumpy and sporting some sort of unidentified dusty scrofula. (Dave’s choice of word, not mine!) The smell is another thing altogether. Pop a couple of quinces in a bowl in your living room (or along the windowsill for lack of space as we have) and they will reward you with a heavenly slightly apple, slightly tropical altogether other-worldly air-freshener for weeks for before you actually get around to cooking them.
When you do get around to cooking them, it’s a slow and gentle process – that will transform slices of hard, dry apple-like fruit into glorious, fragrant, tender fruit pieces, pink enough to brighten up even the darkest of winter days.
I’ve only really just gotten onto cooking quinces so I’m still in the experimental phases. Below are a couple of different methods for cooking. I’d be happy to hear about any other favourites.
Simple Stove Method
4 cups water
1 cup sugar (most recipes call for much more than this but I find for breakfast quinces once cup is plenty)
½ vanilla bean pod, split
3-4 medium quinces
Gently dissolve the sugar in the water on a low heat.
Peel, core and chop the quinces into about eighths – be sure you get the whole core out, they’re quite deep and very woody.
Pop the vanilla pod and quince slices into the simmering sugar syrup.
Cover and allow the quinces to cook at a bare simmer for about 1 ½ hours until they are soft and slightly apricot in colour. The pink will develop over the next couple of days in the fridge.
Take the quinces off the heat and squeeze in the juice of one lemon.
That’s it – they’ll store in a jar in the fridge for a week or two (if they last that long.)
Slow-baked spices quinces
7 cups water
1 cup sugar
½ cup honey
Mixed spices of your choice – star anise, cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, cloves, fresh ginger – just don’t go too crazy, you still want the flavour of the quince to be the star
½ vanilla pod
6-8 quinces (they vary a lot in size!)
1 lemon - juiced
Preheat the oven to 150.
Gently dissolve the sugar and honey in the water on the stove in a heavy pot that can be put in the oven.
Add the spices, vanilla, lemon juice and quinces to the pot. Cover tightly and pop in the oven.
Cook for at least 4 and up to 8 hours.
The quinces will come out heavenly and rosy.
So start poaching, and start each deep dark winter morning with a splash of pink.