Thursday, 7 November 2013

Curiously Quincy, the Naughtiest Fruit of them all (unedited) - Published in the South Shropshire Journal 1/11/13

If I should die, in the moments before I draw my rattley last, I’d like to be presented with a bowl of quinces to gaze upon, sniff and stroke, before I get on my merry way to wherever it is that I’m going next. For the quince is the most pungently, eye-poppingly sensual fruit of them all.

It was a quince (so they say, although I’m not sure who was there to verify this – maybe it was Adam) that tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden, not an apple; Aristophanes used quinces to reference the bosom of young females; Lear’s owl and pussycat were partial, and Nigel Slater one of the greatest food-writers of our time neatly describes the quince as, “A fat cherub…here and there, patches of soft, pubescent down.”

Slice through a quince and there will be no secret as to why it was often regarded as a fertility symbol. A popular variety is the vranja, which to my mind, so prone to childishly creating puerile non-anagrams, is a word not a million miles from, well, you know…

I came home the other evening to a warm embrace of a smell, so intoxicating that it made me thankful for the gloomsome fug and damp outside. I am something of a dictator when it comes to the cooking in this house, but when my wife had been slow-roasting pork and quince for an afternoon, my control freakism went walkabout. Naked and raw, a quince exudes a subtle scent, and a coquettish smile. Exposed to the dry heat of an oven the quince grows up, throws off her clothes and the hug becomes a snog, with the promise of much more. The aroma deeply honeyed, musky, and complex; its ancient Arabian heritage is laid bare. When cooked, the quince gives up on flirting and gets stuck right in.

Quince roasted with fat pork is the most perfect culinary symbiosis. Earthy yet soft. Butch but femme. The dirtiest weekend imaginable, in a roasting tin. One of so many examples of opposites attracting, which is why the sweet, perfumed Spanish quince paste, membrillo is frequently paired with the salty-sharp and sheepy manchego cheese.

Membrillo (the Anglo version is confusingly called “quince cheese”) is easily made at home, and a tremendous way of making the most of the glut we’re experiencing at the moment. Forego the manchego cheese for the biteiest of cheddar cheese and pair it with quince cheese. Sounds ridiculous? It’s just sublime.

The quince is a proper cook’s fruit that will reward you with organoleptic joy beyond compare. But if you can’t be bothered to cook it, I urge you to just pop a few in a large bowl on your kitchen table. Find a quiet moment to gaze, sniff, and touch. Surely this is what life, in and out of the kitchen, is all about. 

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