March 10th, 2005

Fishy Circumstances

Odds and Ends


The Taste of Cooked Quince

Over lunch one day, I read Jane Grigson's chapter on quince in her Fruit Book. I knew nothing about quince. The name rang a bell, but the fruit was entirely unknown to me.

"People say that for the Greeks and Romans, quinces were the golden apples of the Hesperides..." "In the autumn as you go south, the sun shines on the fruit, which stands out as the leaves fall, like magic apples, gold and dazzling against the blue sky." "Bring the best [quince] into the sitting-room or bedroom, which they will scent with the most heavenly smell." "Quince is about the best flavouring for apple or pear pies and tarts." "Baked quince was Sir Isaac Newton's favourite pudding." Jelly, paste, pies, quail, beef, vodka... the fruit intrigued me with its versatility, its early '80s commercial rarity, its Mediterranean frequency, and the promise of sweetly-scented rooms.

In a city like Toronto, I felt sure I could find out what quince tasted like, and recruited some interested friends to join me. In the end, there was no fresh quince to be had. I called around to the city's top fruiteries, including places where fellow cooking school students promised they'd recently seen it. Its usual season is autumn, until January, and so we missed our opportunity to try the real thing until next year. Nevertheless, six of us gathered on Tuesday night to try a sampling of quince jelly, jam, and paste, both spiced and unspiced.

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Impromptu - and completely theoretical - quince advice

If you find a quince
- say, for 99 cents -
then under the tap you should rinse
it. And then you must wait, since
a newly-plucked quince
is too dense both for teeth and for sense.
If some weeks in past tense
you that quince once did rinse,
then it's time to inspect it for dents.

If it's damaged, then brew it.
It's perfect? Then stew it,
and chew it with rue or with mince.

It's true that a stew with the dew of a quince
is a stew to review with a few friends, and hence
it will cue up a new demand too - at expense -
for your stew, and the crew will thank you like a prince.