Or: “Constant Vigi-quince!” (For those of you who know the joke, 10 points to the house of your choice.)
Usually posts heralding a triumphant return to the blogosphere include the requisite hemming and hawing, apology, and oaths of renewed fealty to one’s reader. As my return is something less than triumphant — more of a sidling back, I think, with every sense of promise tempered by an equal dose of doubt — I can only tell you that I hope, truly hope, that it is good to be back. In any case, perhaps the saying of it will make it so.
I was having a conversation with a fellow food blogger yesterday about how it’s so damned hard, sometimes, to feel in the proper mood to blog, especially about food. Hence the long absence: there just seemed to be so much more that needing doing, and more pressingly, so much more self-possession needed that I couldn’t even think about writing, especially publicly. But now, I think, the act — the very thought of — has become increasingly difficult to ignore. And if I’ve learned one thing from academia (not to mention therapy), it’s that there is no such thing as a proper mood.
BRUTUS (from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, 2.1 ):
Between the acting of a dreadful thing
And the first motion, all the interm is
Like a phantasma, or hideous dream:
The genius and the mortal instruments
Are then in council; and the state of men,
Like to a little kingdom, suffers then
The nature of an insurrection.
from T.S. ELIOT’S “Hollow Men”:
Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
To which I add: between the raw and the cooked quince, between the furry uncanny and the jellied tame, all the interim is gorgeous, sweet-smelling anticipation. And, as the title of this post suggests, constant vigilance.
Quince, for those of you who haven’t seen or eaten it, is akin to the apple and a pear, and smells as beautiful as a rose. It is also, oddly enough, furry, and when cut into, may cause slight queasiness as it bears an uncanny resemblance to an apple — both like (texture, peel, core) and unlike (weird, alien seed pod arrangement) enough so that, at least for me, it was a distinctly unpleasant experience. But they’re an amenable enough fruit, willing to sit in your fruit drawer for weeks until their presence guiltily remembered, their futures decisively resolved. Like other fruit-stewing adventures, quince paste doesn’t get made until the idea of kitchen alchemy wafts in and grabs hold of you, turning the thought of something this time-consuming (but as I’ll describe, rather simple) into a pleasant, even desirable endeavor.
It also, I should add, turns pink with heat. Magic.
To cut to the chase, this is your reward:
The Close-Up Quince.
A generous amount of sweet, sliceable, rosy-hued jelly that you can pair with any cheese course or use on your morning toast. It’s like a luminous, honeyed pear, with warm undertones of vanilla and the brightness of lemon. Gorgeous. And to get there is not all that difficult, if you can stomach chopping the raw quince. Oh all right, it’s quite a process — it won’t make itself — but it takes more time than it does arduous work, more patience than anything else. It’s oddly sentient, this quince paste, as it quietly bubbles away on your stovetop, its color deepening each time you think to check on it. Best of all, it breathes a sense of space into your day, drawing on that oddest of temporal mathematics whereby time seems to expand with the more things you do. Which, I suppose, is an aptly transferable lesson for blogging, and even writing itself.
At least that’s what I’m telling myself.
from Fine Cooking, Oct/Nov 2011
- 2 lb quinces (about 4 medium), peeled, cored, and chopped into 3/4 inch pieces
- 1/2 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped out
- 2 strips lemon zest (each 1/2 by 2 inches)
- 2 cups granulated sugar, more or less as needed
- 2 Tbs fresh lemon juice
- 1 Tbs unsalted butter, softened
- Put quince, vanilla bean and seeds, and lemon zest in a 4 qt saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, until the quinces are tender when poked with a knife, about 40 minutes. (Note: This took me far less time, about 25 min.)
- Drain the quince and discard the vanilla bean. Purée the fruit and zest in a food processor (or if you have an immersion blender, go for it!). Measure the purée by volume, return it to the pan, and add an equal amount of sugar. (I had about 2.5 cups purée, so I added about 2.5 cups sugar).
- Cook over medium-low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon until the sugar is dissolved, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the lemon juice and reduce heat to low. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the purée becomes a very thick paste, about 1.5 hours. (Constant vigi-quince!)
- When about done, heat oven to 125 degrees F. If your oven doesn’t go that low, use the lowest temperature and expect a shorter cooking time. Line a 8×8 inch glass or ceramic baking dish with parchment and grease with the butter. Pour the paste (don’t scrape the pot) into the dish and smooth the top. Bake until slightly dried and firm enough to slice, about 1 hour.
- Remove from oven. Let cool to room temp. Invert onto a cutting board and slice however you’d like. Wrap with plastic wrap and keep refrigerated — it should last at least a month, if not longer. (You can also freeze it, I think, well-wrapped. This is a great gift for friends!)