Thursday, 29 October 2009

I blame Nigella

Did Nigella Lawson invent quinces? I mean, until I read ‘How to Eat’ for the first time, I’d never even heard of quinces. Next thing, I notice them appearing in the greengrocers in October. Before I know it, I’m looking forward to their arrival, as if it’s some sort of long established ritual. As if autumns when I was a child were always marked by the purchase of quinces with my mother. I have somehow taken on Nigella Lawson’s quince habit, as if it were my own.

So for the last 8 years or so, early November has meant the annual buying of the quinces. This is followed, about 4-6 weeks later with the associated annual ritual of the throwing away of the mouldy quinces, or, if I catch them in time, the dumping of the (very) ripe quinces into a jar of vodka with some cinnamon sticks, in order to make some kind of ‘interesting’ liqueur. I have a jar of quinces steeping in vodka which has now accompanied me on two house moves. I finally got round to straining and bottling the liqueur a week or so ago, when I was flushed with the success of my damson gin making. The faded label on the jar said: Spiced Quince Liqueur - November 2003.

I don’t even like the taste of quinces that much. Sorry, I realise this is heresy amongst the Nigella reading public. I’m not really a fan of poached fruit and poached quinces are tooth-screechingly sweet. I’m not a huge fan of jam either – whether quince or otherwise. I’ve also made Nigella’s quince mincemeat, which I’m afraid didn’t taste that different than ordinary homemade mincemeat, and you’ve guessed it, I’m not that fond of mincemeat.

I just like the idea of quinces. I’m driven by some ridiculous self-delusion that I am connecting to ancient Christmas traditions, reaching back to medieval times or tapping into their exotic, middle-eastern roots. Or maybe, in that sad way that people buy celebrity perfumes to try and acquire a touch of their favourite star’s magic, maybe I think buying quinces will make me like Nigella Lawson – beautiful, oozing sex appeal and rich. Instead, I am still just a slightly frazzled, overweight, middle-aged woman, but one with some rotting fruit in her kitchen.

You can imagine the combination of delight and dread with which I greeted the news from a friend that she had discovered a source of quinces, growing here in Edinburgh. Would I like to share the fruit with her? Delight at the prospect of locally gathered, free fruit and magical quinces to boot. Dread at the thought that yet again I would fail to do anything useful with them and just feel even guiltier at the waste this time around, because the fruit had been generously given by a friend. But could I resist? Of course not. It’s quince season again.

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