Saturday, 27 September 2008

Q is for Quince

In our front garden a quince tree is blooming and how pretty it is. The blossoms are perfumed and white with fine, pink veins providing a delicate blush around the edges. Unlike stone fruits such as peaches and plums, the quince flowers after the leaves have appeared, not before.

I would not have known that the tree was a quince had our landlord not identified it for me. I have never cooked with quinces but I am looking forward to making quince paste and quince jelly next autumn, if we are still living here.

According to Stephanie Alexander, "the quince (Cydonia oblonga) was sacred to Aphrodite and Venus, the goddesses of love, and a symbol of love, happiness and fertility in Greek and Roman times." (The Cook's Companion, 1996)

Perhaps more of us should eat quinces!

The picture below is of mature quinces, and they will sit large and yellow on the tree until you are ready to pick them. I understand that they are often horribly astringent when raw but are delicious cooked with honey, or in pickles or preserves.
Quince by Michael Alexander

Even if you have never eaten a quince, you are probably familiar with Edward's Lears poem, "The Owl and the Pussycat". It was certainly one of my favourite childhood poems.

In the poem, the owl and the pussycat marry and at their wedding breakfast they dine "on mince, and slices of quince which they ate with a runcible spoon".

What is a runcible spoon, you ask? Well, even if you didn't, I did. The fact is, nobody really knows, though Lear drew one that looks like a ladle. Lear liked to use words that sound wonderful, like 'quince', and 'runcible', leaving their meaning up to his readers' imagination, just as Lewis Carroll did in "The Jabberwocky".

I think the words sound wonderful, anyway.

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat Went to Sea in a Beautiful Pea- Green Boat by Edward Lear
The Owl and the Pussy-Cat

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,'
O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!'

Pussy said to the Owl, 'You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?'
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

'Dear pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?' Said the Piggy, 'I will.'
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.
From the official Edward Lear website.


Kirstin said...

Hi Kate! I have never had a quince. They sort of look like a pear.

I too love that poem. I grew up loving poems.

Jenny said...

Great photos of the flowers.
I love quince paste with a strong flavoured cheese. Yum.

ps. The Owl and the Pussycat is one of my favourite poems

River said...

I love the look of quince jelly. That shining, jewel bright, ruby red. The taste is quite nice too. I've never eaten quince paste.

demonstration blog said...

What a wonderful post. Your photographs are absolutely lovely. I love your reference to a runcible spoon and your wonderful Own and the Pussy-Cat poem. Karen

YayaOrchid said...

I wish I had a quince tree. Beautiful flowers and the fruit is so useful. In Mexico they make a jellied candy called 'membrillo' and it's delicious!

Mikki said...

I have never heard of either the fruig or the poem. I would have taken it for a pear too though. Hmmm...I wonder if they're available here in the states.