Rubens and the Quince..a Retrospective

There are some images which, once imaged on one’s inner eyeball, are almost impossible to erase.  Rather like the earworm, but with eyes.

Take this, for example, which I stumbled upon whilst looking for ways to prepare quince.

“I love the quince’s shape, its generous curves and bulges. It is a voluptuous, even magnificent fruit to look at, like a Rubens bottom.”(Nigel Slater)

Why, yes, Nigel Slater, why yes, I now see that it does, but, sadly, this revelation means  I will never be able to look at a quince in the face again, and certainly not with a straight face, on my own visage. If you would like to see the connection between quinces and Rubens, gaze on these beauties that my forager friend brought me, a few weeks back,

Quinces, faire  and fulsome

Quinces, faire and fulsome, with bay and pear and lemon

Quince, faire and rubenesque

Quince, faire and rubenesque

and, then, check out  the works of Sir Peter Paul Rubens.

Not withstanding the mirthful imagery, Mr Slater did provide an excellent recipe for cooking quinces, first by poaching, then by baking them to persimmon-toned, bejewelled  tenderness. The fresh, delicate, faintly rose like perfume of the quinces filled the kitchen during the slow cooking process. And it made me think how this aroma, so rare for me, and many other modern house-persons,  was, once, long ago, a  more common scent in New Zealand homes.

Poached and baked quinces in Haddon Hall bowl

Poached and baked quinces in  Haddon Hall bowl

 For, even as early as 1820,  the plans for the Kerikeri mission station garden in the North Island of New Zealand contained quince trees.   I wonder if the rubenesque appearance of the fruit crossed the mission’s collective eye . Perhaps they were more interested, as most early settlers were, in the basic food value, rather than the aesthetics, of their garden produce.

George Butler Earp, who wrote  Hand-book for Intending Emigrants to the Southern Settlements of New Zealand, (1851) 3rd ed, W S Orr, London, said of New Zealand gardens  (in 1852) that ” no English garden, however expensively kept up, can for a moment vie with the beauty of a cottagers’ garden in New Zealand in the beauty of its shrubs, to say nothing of the vines, melons, Cape gooseberries, peaches, all English and many tropical fruits, which will grow anywhere in the greatest luxuriance.” (Source: Cottage Gardening in New Zealand by Christine Dann)

I think that Mr Earp’s enthusiastic  ‘anywhere’ may be an overstatement, but, in the beginning  years, settlers had little choice but to make their gardens grow, wherever they found themselves. It was a matter of survival. However, once the  northern hemisphere newcomers had worked hard, and worked out the upside-down growing seasons in  New Zealand, and understood  what grew well, and what didn’t, on their patch of soil, they would have had sufficient fruit to make the jellies and jams and pastes  that they remembered from the old country. (Imagine the excitement of writing home to Mother that you had made your first batch of quince jelly with fruit from your own garden 😉 )

And, if harvests were good, there may have been enough surplus fruit to make  taffety tarts, quince pyes, or apple and quince shortcake.  Or other such scrumptious treats, filled with memories of absent mothers and grandmothers and lands left behind.

Apple shortcake, minus the quince, was a favourite of my young days. For me, it holds the essence of good meals, in the kitchen, and a long tradition of excellence in family baking.   I don’t know if my/our recipe dates back to earlier generations but both my grandmother and great-grandmother were skilled producers of food for the table and pantry. They may well have made shortcake.

Great grandmother circa 1927 working hard on the farm.

Great grandmother circa 1927 working hard on the Harewood farm. I don’t know if she cooked or grew rubenesque quinces but she made a fine parsnip wine, or so I am told.

And, finally, a little more nonsense about the quince…..to counter balance the visual earworm of a Rubens’  posterior, however beautiful it may be.

© silkannthreades

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122 thoughts on “Rubens and the Quince..a Retrospective

    1. Gallivanta Post author

      I would love to read more Nigel Slater. And the shortbread was so good. I have just made some more, but this time with a feijoa and apple and ginger filling.

      Reply
  1. teamgloria

    firstly we ADORE Mr. Slater

    he is very clever and sensual and interesting and witty and wise.

    his book about growing fruit trees in the garden (“Ripe”) is a visual FEAST.

    then when you said quince we thought Instantly of Rumer Godden – even though twas greengages she wrote about – but quince jelly on an arrowroot with a cup of darjeeling was probably something “done” on a hot afternoon in India.

    lovely

    *sighs_happily*

    hope your guests are enjoying your hospitality.

    one more thing – we always think wistfully about the documentation that was given to brave souls getting onto a ship for a new Life…..everything from what to grow to how to behave…..amazing days…..and yet we all still do move and emigrate and – well – You understand.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      When we travelled, and lived the expatriate life, we were not told a thing 😦 . But from experiences that go back to the day I was born in the colonies, I came to understand many things about the process of changing places of residence. ‘ Wish I were here’ brought back, to my mind, some of my learnings. http://julieriso.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/the-phases-of-bratislava/
      I wonder if these stages were explained in those very early settler handbooks. Were they told that if you survived to the 5th or 6th year you would go ‘native’; go over to the other side? or as we would put it today, become fully integrated in your new society/environment. 😀 😀

      Reply
      1. teamgloria

        what a WONDERFUL suggestion to visit her there….thank you!

        this was the most priceless line: ” Plastered smile, death grip on a beverage”

        *giggling*

        been. there.

        _tg xxx

        Reply
  2. BEAUTYCALYPSE

    spring just has sprung over here today, and I’m coming home from gorgeous Salzburg in Austria, Berlin is warm and sunny but it’s merely the time for cherry blossom – yet here are you, teasing with this lush quince harvest! *tortured look*

    Reply
      1. BEAUTYCALYPSE

        oh yes, definitely! they’re also even more “golden autumn” than apples or pumpkins, well, to me 🙂 and such a good sport, the quince. great to pair with probably everything.

        Reply
        1. Gallivanta Post author

          So I am discovering..that they are great with everything. This is my first time to eat quince other than in a jelly or a paste. It’s a revelation.

        2. BEAUTYCALYPSE

          😀

          have you tried to make “fruit leather” from quinces? I have eaten it, but never managed to make it myself. I hear they are particularly good for that!

        3. BEAUTYCALYPSE

          I was shopping groceries today after work, and saw what I though was quinces. but it turned out to be some exotic lemon variety, very Rubens-ish in shape and proportion 😀 clearly. you’re to blame :p

        4. Gallivanta Post author

          Clearly! I have just been given some more quinces. They are more pear shaped than the first lot of quinces I had. I think these ones may be Smyrna quinces.

  3. shoreacres

    I’m not certain I’ve ever met a quince, let alone eaten one. But they seem to share one quality with our persimmons – they’re sharp and astringent before ripening and/or being cooked.

    I did find two tidbits about them that aren’t exactly related, but both are very interesting. One is that some ancient sources seem to think that the fruit in the Garden of Eden might have been quince rather than apple. And if cooking is your primary interest, rather than mythology, it seems that alumimum pans will deepen the red color of the prepared fruit. How about that!?

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      The Quince must be one of the most interesting fruit I have come across. So much history! Sadly, I no longer have any aluminum pans. Usually one is advised not to use aluminum pans for anything acidic so I wonder what exciting chemical reaction takes place, between pot and fruit, to make the quince turn so red. Mmmm…I think I may stick to my stainless pots and glass bakeware!

      Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      It takes some effort to temporarily banish Rubens from the mind and plunge a knife in to the flesh. But once cored and peeled and halved, the quinces lose all resemblance to Rubens’ figures. 🙂

      Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Ah! And the only the reference that I could find for Quince in Shakespeare was Peter Quince but I am sure there must be others. The symbolism of the quince matches well with the sensuality of the poem, although I am not entirely sure that was the intention.

      Reply
  4. dadirri7

    your baking always looks mouth-watering, even more so with ingredients like quince, one of my all-time favourites … sadly the possums ate ours this year despite an abundant crop … drought you know … they have to eat something and the fruit trees were hammered 😦

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Gosh, it must have been bad because my blogger friend in the North of New Zealand said that the one thing the possums won’t eat are the quinces! They seem to find them inedible. Perhaps they are already too full of all the other lovely fruit in her garden. 😉

      Reply
  5. Sheryl

    I’m envious that you can find quinces in New Zealand. In the US, they are a traditional fruit that was often grown on farms and in people’s yards years ago, but theyare difficult to find now. I have a good quince jelly story that I want to tell about Grandma–and each fall I look for some so that I can make quince jelly, but so far I haven’t found any.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      I would love to hear that story. I do hope that you can find quince somewhere this year. Do you have a foragers’ network in the area that could help locate a tree? It’s such a pity these old trees have vanished from the landscape. I hope they make a comeback. I think there are varieties that can be grown in a pot so there’s no need for a lot of space to grow quinces. http://www.iwcp.co.uk/news/gardening/the-revival-of-quince-is-not-nonsense-43097.aspx

      Reply
  6. Marylin Warner

    Oh, Gallivanta! I was enjoying the fruit, my mouth was watering over the baking results (truly scrumptious looking)…and then the picture of the killing of the chicken! 😉 Our mothers and grandmothers and theirs before them, knew how to make a complete meal. But the process of getting there!

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Yes, it was an arduous experience putting food on the table, but sometimes I think I would prefer digging up potatoes and milking the cows to standing in the supermarket with lines of sad faced, stressed out people and then driving home on crowded roads full of angry, impatient drivers. That’s just sometimes!

      Reply
  7. Letizia

    I will never be able to look at a quince in the same way again now, haha! My parents’ quince tree has suffered in the past year. It used to give plenty of fruit and last year it didn’t give any. Quite sad!

    I love the photo of your great grandmother.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Oh, I do hope the quince tree comes right again. They are hardy apparently but still susceptible to fire blight (?). Glad you like the photo; a very natural one 🙂 !

      Reply
      1. Letizia

        Fire blight, I’ll have to google that, thank you. We’ve had some tough weather (hurricanes, heavy snow off season) which may have played a part. At least the tree itself is beautiful.

        Reply
  8. Steve Schwartzman

    The comparison to Rubens is apt: art critics are never in arrears when it comes to analogies.

    Your comment that “settlers had little choice but to make their gardens grow” reminds me of the great song that ends Leonard Bernstein’s Candide:

    Reply
        1. Gallivanta Post author

          A fascinating read. Makes me realise how little we were taught of American theatre and music and poetry. I am finally catching up…a little.

  9. Travelling Kiwi

    When I was much much younger there was a pop group called Quincy Conserve. I always thought it sounded like a quirky name, and now I see it means Quince Jam 🙂

    Reply
  10. Sheryl @ Flowery Prose

    Wonderful! I loved the “cheeky” reference to Rubens! And “The Owl and the Pussycat” is a special favourite from my childhood…I was grinning ear to ear to listen to it here and really enjoyed the arrangement! I’ve never eaten quince before; I’ve never seen it in our markets or grocery stores. Quince jelly sounds like something I would make and enjoy.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      I thought the musical and visual arrangement of The Owl and the Pussycat was wonderful, too. And I am sure you would love making quince jelly. This Canadian article http://life.nationalpost.com/2012/10/27/quince-youve-been-gone-a-rare-fruit-and-how-it-became-that-way/ gives a good explanation of why you may not have seen or eaten a quince. Perhaps, if the growing conditions are right, your community garden might consider planting one. As you can see here http://afrenchgarden.wordpress.com/2012/04/18/i-love-my-quince-tree/#comment-3641 it is such a gorgeous tree and the bees love the blossom.

      Reply
  11. Leya

    Your great grandmother looks like my grandmother did – and the hard work they share too. Quince I have heard of but never eaten anything from. Maybe I should? I don’t know if it’s possible to find in a store, but I might try!

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      The farm women were definitely hard workers. Our grandmothers and great grandmothers would have had a lot in common. (As we do :D) Perhaps you would find quince in stores or markets with Iranian or Turkish customers. Or maybe they grow in warmer parts of Sweden. The New Scandinavian Cooking series feature a few quince recipes and they usually use local ingredients, if I remember correctly. http://www.newscancook.com/recipes-by-chef/quince-compote/

      Reply
  12. Tiny

    Very interesting! I had to do some additional research and I came to the conclusion that I have never tasted a quince. But it definitely has some rubenesque qualities 🙂

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Peter Paul Rubens The fruit is definitely rubenesque. I think there are quinces in this painting by Rubens. Do they look like quinces to you? Well, let’s see if the image comes through on the post!

      Reply
      1. Tiny

        They really look like quinces! Previously I’d thought they were pears, but these are smoother in the curves so I’m inclined to say yes!

        Reply
        1. Gallivanta Post author

          I can’t find any definitive answer about whether they are pears or quinces so I am glad you agree that they may be quinces. The symbolism of quinces would make them a perfect fruit to place in the basket.

    1. Gallivanta Post author

      I think they may be making a small comeback. Apparently in 17th Century (English?)recipe books there were more recipes for quince than for any other fruit. I have eaten quince jelly and quince paste before but this was my first experience of eating it baked, and using it in a cake.

      Reply
  13. cindy knoke

    Now I will never look at quince the same way either! Laughing. That apple bread looks divine. I want to come to tea at your house. I think I have mentioned this about twenty time before…….

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      And one day I am sure you really will come to tea. We will dine “on mince and slices of quince” just like the Owl and the Pussycat. 🙂 🙂

      Reply
  14. Lavinia Ross

    Quince grows here in the Willamette Valley too. I’ve sometimes cooked it with apples to make a hybrid sauce, but I loved that photo of poached quince! Sounds good!

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      I am glad that you know and appreciate the quince. You have an wonderful source of quince knowledge in Corvallis http://www.ars.usda.gov/main//Docs.htm?docid=11309 at the National Clonal Germplasm Repository. I love that they have this resource too “NCGR-Corvallis is collaborating with NAL Special Collections to make illustrations available in a digital form that represent the fruit crops preserved at the Corvallis Clonal Repository. Many of these paintings represent cultivars present in our collection today, and these images are being loaded to the GRIN database as historical vouchers for appropriate accessions”.champion quince This watercolour dates from 12/03/1909 and is by Amanda A Newton. Amanda was the granddaughter of Isaac Newton, President Lincoln’s and America’s first Commissioner of Agriculture.

      Reply
  15. pleisbilongtumi

    Never seen those fruits before. Poached quinces looks delicious with sugar, cinnamon and cloves? …… I usually poach pineapples with sugar, cinnamon and cloves, Today I add my knowlege of the fruits of the world. Thank you. 🙂

    Reply
        1. Gallivanta Post author

          Yes cinnamon and cloves are available; imported ones. Actually, just now, I cooked some pineapple in some of the leftover spiced syrup from the quinces . It was delicious.

  16. Mélanie

    we love quinces, our winter fruit or vegetable… 🙂 I cook them “steamed”, then “caramelisés” with maple syrup and serve them as a “garniture” next to any white meat: pork, chicken, veal or turkey… bon appétit! 🙂

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      The image of my great grandmother is certainly a treasure. There are so few photos from that era of our family history and not many that are taken in a relaxed, natural manner.

      Reply
  17. vsperry

    There is something about the picture of your great grandmother that makes me want to have known her. I would love to sit down and have a cuppa, except I’m not sure she ever took that much time off from her chores.She looks like she was one tough bird (pun intended). I also planted a quince bush, mostly because of the beautiful flowers, but I’m hoping it eventually produces fruit, I don’t know if I’m in the right climate for that. We’ll see.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      I expect the quince will do quite well. Here is an excellent article from the New York Times on the subject of quinces. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/03/garden/in-praise-of-the-misunderstood-quince-tree.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0
      My father told us that his grandmother made a great morning tea when they were working on chores around the farm. I wish I had known her. I think she was hardy but she was very good with dogs and, if you are good with dogs, you have to be a good person to know :). Am I right ???

      Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      I look at photos of my grandmother and great grandmother and think, hey, that’s how I will look in a few years time. In my case, though, you may see me in the garden, in my working clothes, but I doubt that I will be plucking a chicken!

      Reply
  18. ruthierufiebob

    I have never heard of a Quince before. Thank you for introducing me to something new! They look really tasty (especially in those pastries.. yum yum). If I ever see one at a grocery store here, I am buying it! 🙂

    Reply
      1. ruthierufiebob

        Oooh that sounds yummy! I am going to check for that next time I go shopping!!! I’ll let you know if I find any 🙂 I’m always up for new foods, especially fruits!

        Reply
  19. gpcox

    I’ve never had a quince – looks like an obese apple that turns into looking like apricots when its cooked. Do you happen to know if these fruits are exported to the U.S.?

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Yes, Nigel Slater was spot on! I wish more of the skills had tumbled down to me. My grandmother was amazing and I still have memories of her bottling and preserving and making jam, and baking on an old coal range. I didn’t know my great grandmother but she probably did all her cooking without the benefit of modern conveniences. I remember a hand water pump at the farm so perhaps she managed without running water, too.

      Reply
  20. afrenchgarden

    Great dedication to the quince, a much under appreciated fruit. It has the advantage of holding its shape better in savoury dishes and can be substituted anywhere you use apple for a change in flavour.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Ah, that is good to know. I am new to cooking quinces! I could have baked my quinces for a longer period but, at the time, I was worried about over-cooking them and letting them turn to mush. It was only later that I realised that they kept their shape so well. Do you cook them a lot in season?

      Reply
        1. Gallivanta Post author

          The quince with lamb sounds utterly delicious. I can see that quince may become the flavour of the month in my house with so many different ways to use it.

  21. utesmile

    You make my mouth water (as always) I looooove quince. My favourite though is quince jelly, what amazing taste spread on a beautiful piece of bread for breakfast. I still got a glass here from my sister … for special occasions… no I think I shall open it today in line with your beauties. Otherwise it gets old….. 🙂 I shall enjoy the quince just like you do!
    Have a great quincy day !

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Did your sister make the quince jelly? I do love it. I was going to make jelly but I thought I would try something different for my first attempt at cooking quinces. A great Quincy day to you!

      Reply
  22. Virginia Duran

    A little bit of culture, a little bit of sugar and a little bit of personal history. Enjoyed this post very much. It’s been a while that I don’t eat any cake with quince, you made me hungry 🙂

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Thank you Virginia. Various sites tell me that Dulce de Membrillo is a popular Spanish way to eat quinces. It sounds delicious. I will swap you some of my shortcake for some of your membrillo paste. 🙂

      Reply
        1. Gallivanta Post author

          When you make it next time, post a photo for us on WordPress. Would love to see some of your home made Membrillo, even if I can’t taste it.

  23. Coulda shoulda woulda

    I don’t get quinces. I like quince jelly with cheese but it seems a lot of work for not much result…it reminds me of survival food if that makes sense? But I love old pics and I have never heard of parsnip wine before!

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Quinces are a lot of work which is probably one of the reasons they have been neglected by the modern day household. They are incredibly hard to core! Funny you should mention survival food…..I know this is not what you mean but it occurred to me that a place like NOMA would probably feature quince on the menu if they were available in the neighbourhood.

      Reply

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