A Quincidental Remedy
Existential dread, dilemma of identity, crisis of self; however you name it, my work has got me in a real funk recently, and not in a Tower of Power kind of way. I found myself nearly incapable of thinning out my carrots the other week; every tiny seedling became wasted potential personified (carrotified?) and I struggled to bring myself to discard them. After all, what was the point of planting them in the first place if they had no future? I got myself worried that this was a revelation of some long-hidden pro-life tendency but in retrospect I was probably just imprinting my own issues onto a root vegetable. You know, like totally normal well adjusted people do…
My normal defensive mechanism against the rising tide of what am I doing with my life usually involves extended conversations (rants?) with my housemate: an endlessly patient and sensible soul. He, however, is currently overseas and I’ve ended up looking for solace elsewhere.
Readers of this blog will have heard me rave about my local ‘buy nothing’ Facebook group before. It’s a group where people in a particular suburb or area give away unwanted items to other people in their community. You can also ask the group for items you want or need, and often someone will have just the thing you’re looking for. The overall aim is to reduce unnecessary consumerism (good for your pocket, good for the world) and build relationships that bridge the virtual and real world communities.
Recently someone on this page was giving away quinces that they had grown. Most comments from the group essentially boiled down to what’s a quince? so I put my hand up for the lot. At the time I thought it was just a few, and so rode my bike over to pick them up. Turns out, there were A LOT of quinces. My pannier bags were stretched to their limit, but I managed to wobble home in one piece.
Quinces are a bit of tricky fruit. They’re not nice to eat raw, and cooking them presents a number of challenges. They’re generally super knobbly so peeling can be tricky, and the flesh is super dense; I reckon it’s harder to chop a quince than through something like a pumpkin. This means that cooking them takes a loooong, looooong time. And, as the comments on the page proved, quinces aren’t that common so most people don’t know what to do with them.
So that was a list of cons. Here are the pros.
Quinces are delicious. Even their smell is amazing; I’d rather have a bowl of fresh quinces than a vase of roses. As with many slow-cooking foods, quinces are worth the wait. The richness and complexity of flavour is pretty much unparalleled. Feel free to @ me if you disagree; I would love nothing more than to debate the merits of fruit with you. Quinces are also kind of magical. A strawberry jam will only ever taste like strawberries and sugar, but a quince jam will taste like apples, vanilla, citrus, cranberries… The transformation of furry, yellow skinned, pale fleshed lump to silky, smooth, rich red paste is wonderful to watch. And in a very practical sense, they have a high pectin content which makes ‘setting’ super easy.
It took many hours of peeling, chopping, cooking, boiling, bottling, scrubbing and Netflix binging, but the last of the quinces finally finished their transformation. So with my dining table covered in jars of jam and packets of paste, and my kitchen floor in desperate need of a good mop (this has been a real sticky business) it was time to return the transformed quinces back to the community.
Autumn is the BEST season in Canberra; once again I was going to say feel free to @ me but I honestly do not anticipate any pushback on this one. It was goddamn delightful to cycle around the streets of the Inner North with the trees all decked out in red and gold. I got to have a whole bunch of awesome interactions with people in my community; old friends and strangers. For some I was giving them a brand new taste I’ve never tried quince before! For others it was a favourite flavour I LOVE quince, it’s so nice to have something homemade. For me, it was a gift of connection and community. I found it extremely satisfying.
At the end of the day I cook for other people. I use food to build relationships and to show that I care for other people. I’ve been feeling unsure about my professional cheffing relationships recently so it’s been profoundly important to be able to have other meaningful interactions over a shared love of food and flavour.
The quinces may not have pulled me all the way out of my funk, but I’m definitely feeling better about the world.
For those interested in cooking with quinces, I’ll post some recipes and bits and bobs soon. I cannot guarantee that they’ll change your life, but at the very least they’ll be delicious.
If you’re looking for your own delightful corner of the internet you should definitely check out the Buy Nothing website where you can join your local community.