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, with bay and pear and lemon
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
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 and Quince Shortcake on Aynsley Pembroke plate
“Rang’d in thick order let your Quinces lie. .”The Whole Duty of a Woman (London: 1707)
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 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.