Monday, April 5, 2010

Quince, Time, Travel and The Anti-Entanglement Motto

Five years ago, my father flew back to England for his Dad’s funeral. Our old quince tree had also given up the ghost, so when we came across what sounded like the perfect poaching recipe, my mother and I went on a quest for a roadside tree. She’d heard a rumour about one in Tallangatta Valley, so we set off. Our valley is wider and greener, but it was an adventure to follow the narrow bitumen into another world, winding between steep yellow slopes and over rocky creek beds. We found the brave little quince, stalwart and solitary. Looking over our shoulders, we picked all the fruit we could reach.

My mother knows how to follow a recipe precisely and, thanks to staunch kitchen gardening, her food is always aligned with the season. The quince dish was magnificent - wine red, heavily spiced, syrupy. Serve with marscapone, said the instructions. I remember eating bowlful after bowlful, sitting by the fire on the couch on the Axminster flowers in the dark of the rammed earth sitting room in the oldest part of the homestead.

If Mum has a culinary Achilles Heel, it’s that, from time to time, she’ll come across a great thing and she’ll get stuck in the groove. Delicious the first night, really nice the second time, OK the third and never again after that.

As I write this, I am suddenly reminded of my friend Anna’s old anti-entanglement motto: Three times in a week, or three times in a month, then never again.

When the pot was empty, we poached another batch, and opened a second tub of marscapone…we’ve been hesitant ever since.

Mum did plant a new quince tree, and this year it’s in beautiful shape. Joseph and I have been watching the fruit turn golden, hoping the folks would return before it started dropping. They’ve both been in England. My sister, who was raised in Australia, jumped on a plane when she was seventeen and has lived in London for years. She’s just had a baby and my parents were there for the gruelling, happy event.

My father flew home yesterday. In between bouts with the lawn, he appeared at my door, asking for cream or yoghurt. He was thinking of doing up some quince. I had a heavy, pink, poached flashback. Luckily, Dad’s cooking is a bit like his farming – resourceful, rugged, imprecise, only vaguely inspired by rules and usually containing a substitute ingredient (no point making a special trip to town for just one thing). An hour or so later he reappeared with a dish and we sat down by the big picture window in what was the grain shed in unseasonably warm and green autumn light. I’d never seen quince like this before - dry, sweet, golden brown, caramelised in parts, slightly leathery, the quintessence of autumn. A kind of time travel happened from the first mouthful – is there any other fruit that tastes so old-fashioned? He worried that the dish was too dry, that even though he’d left the seeds in the fruit hadn’t gone pink, and that he should have used treacle instead of golden syrup instead of sugar.
Ahh. Golden syrup. The perfect substitute.

To revise the motto: Three times in a row, then five years down the track? A wonderfully transformed experience.

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