Edward Lear’s nursery rhyme, The Owl and The Pussycat, is a favorite of mine. It speaks of romance between an impossible pair who elope to be married in a pea-green boat to the land “where the Bong tree grows”. They dine on “ Mince* and slices of quince” and dance “by the light of the moon”. Total nonsense, but so charmingly romantic.
Quince, to me, conveys romance and poetry: an exotic fruit saved for special occasions. It is not mass cultivated and grows mostly in the Middle East and Asia. It is an ancient fruit that has lived through many civilizations, but it remains uncommon. It is often hard to find in most American supermarkets, except during the winter holidays when people are willing to pay almost five dollars for one.
Quince has a sadness about it when raw. It is nubby, a little fuzzy and unwelcoming to the touch. It never looks perfect and its creamy flesh is woody and tough and would make your mouth pucker if you tried eating it. But when cooked, the quince is transformed: it is luscious and silky, burnt umber in color, delicate in flavor, aromatic and sweet. It is not a fruit you devour, but one you use sparingly or as a condiment. An ingredient to treat with reverence.
It is mostly used to make jam. I can still smell the fragrance of the glowing burnt-orange Sfarjal jam (Arabic name for quince), cooling in jars on the marble counters of my mother’s kitchen. Quince is also added to savory dishes of lamb or chicken from Iran and Syria, Tunisia and Morocco. Quince paste, Membrillo, from Spain, is delicious on top of cheese, and I once came across a quince-infused Vodka recipe, that I plan to try next Fall!
So that’s the story behind the name. Despite my exposure to many cuisines, middle-eastern and mediterranean are still my favorites. Quince is only one of the many ingredients I associate with the Middle-East. There are so many others that I have idolized in my culinary memory and muse about in my writing. I hope to share them with you. Raising a family and having a full-time job, with no help and support, forced me transform many traditional recipes by taking shortcuts without compromising flavor. Sometimes it is only a matter of prepping ahead of time and being organized. The end result looks like you have slaved away for hours. In fact, you have, but no one, including you, would even notice.
This blog is about the foods, the tips and stories about the kitchens and the people I’ve known who, through food and cooking, have transformed my life.
*(although most of you who have found your way here probably already know) Mince probably refers to mincemeat, an English filling for pies that consists of dried fruit, distilled spirits like Brandy and spices.