Thursday, October 23, 2014

Strange fruit

Woe is me,

a surfeit of quinces.  It's that time of year again.  Our friends have a quince tree, and Japonica bushes besides. In their early days here they hankered for and planted one of these most beautiful, elegant and archaic of orchard trees, and greeted the first few fruits with delight, but now we are submerged in the things, as well as quince jelly, paste, membrillo, even chutney.  We wonder what else one can possibly do with them, dine on slices of them with mince eaten with a runcible spoon?  Not very promising, though Nigel Slater did yield a recipe involving putting them in a stuffing for lamb with bulgar wheat, which he said had the advantage of getting rid of a couple of them, so he must have been in the same boat. But lamb here is expensive, and unless you go towards Mont St Michel, fairly indifferent, we seldom buy it, and Tom doesn't like bulgar. 

Fruit gluts here are often something of a problem, since we don't do dessert much, and beyond the odd slice of toast with marmalade, if we do have jam I'm afraid we rather like it red or purple with a bit of chewiness, so all the jellies soother than the creamy curd in various shades of gold and pink, pretty though they are, tend to sit around a bit. We seek out savoury applications, but these don't really use a lot, and we rather like our ham plain with a slick of mustard and our cheese plain with a glass of wine. Fruit liqueurs are a fairly safe bet and usually get drunk some time over the winter (as may we) but we still have some of last year's quince ratafia, not bad, made with the tail end of a bottle of rum, some very cheap and sweet Muscat de Samos and a bottle of Lidl vodka, and something similar may happen to these in the end.

Yet I can never refuse them, if only because of their heady perfume, and that they make me feel as if I'm living in a mediaeval tapestry. Our friends don't seem to learn either; the Quiet American, typically beguiled by all things Old World and quaint, and intrigued by my experiments with scrumped medlars a few years ago (gosh but it makes me sad going over old blog posts, snows of yesteryear and all that, and always reminders of loved and lost ones...), is still making noises about planting a tree, so if we all live long enough hereabouts we'll be wondering what to do with a surfeit of medlars, which sounds very Shakespearian.

No glut of pumpkins this year, these two were the total of my crop. I've vowed never again to grow the big watery, tasteless rouge d'étampes things again, but a few more butternut squash wouldn't go amiss.   Tom professes not to like these either, but they can very easily be roasted and slipped into our soups and stews without too much objection, and I appreciate them greatly.  We had a couple of third-hand samples of other people's surplus though, so we won't go short of our beta-carotene.

The final real fruiting oddity though, was a mysterious plant that seeded itself in the back of a flower bed. I kept meaning to pull it up, assuming it was a nightshadey sort of weed, but when I went to do so, it had expanded considerably, and on closer inspection turned out to be an edible physalis plant.

It bears very small boldly marked flowers, which all kinds of bees find irresistible, but which don't seem to turn into fruit so are presumably the male flowers, and an abundance of the lantern cased, cherry sized fruits.

I can't imagine how the plant was seeded here, I buy them occasionally but we eat them all up, and certainly don't throw them in the compost or spit the pips out or give them to the birds. Something sometimes  gets to the ones on the plant before I do however, and I find empty husks, so perhaps a sharp-eyed bird found one somewhere and deposited the seed in the evolution honoured way.

We've eaten quite a number of them ripe already, but the plant continues to spread and sprawl and make more and more green fruit.  A friend who grew up in southern Africa says they grow like weeds on verges and rubbish tips and anywhere you like there, and one year she grew some here and the summer and autumn were long and warm enough to yield a good picking. I can't imagine these will come to much now though, although I've tried to train the stems up the hedge to get them most sun and light, and the eager bees are determinedly braving the October chill to bustle round the flowers. I wonder if I snip the biggest ones off and leave them in their husks on a warm windowsill they'll be viable.  Unlike many of the exotic fruits which have become fashionable of recent years for their decorative beauty and bizarre shapes, (star fruit? bleugh!) they have a unique, intense and quite delicious flavour which just shouts vitamin C at you. Standing with bare legs of an October morning and biting into a cold one reminds me I'm alive, and glad of it.


Anonymous said...

I searched widely for quinces in Asian grocery shops, being met with blank stares everywhere. Then I realised I was asking in Pakistani/Bangladeshi shops, and it seems they don't bother with that fruit. Arab/Mediterranean shops are where I have seen them before. City Road in Cardiff now boasts a massive and mesmerising Turkish run store which is a real delight. Sure enough they had crates of them. I was able to recognise the writing on the boxes even if I hadn't known the fruit by the appearance, as they were from Greece, whose language rendered the scientific name Cydonia.
Regarding uses, I once read that the Japanese place a ripe quince on the back shelf inside their cars, as a way of fragrancing the interior! I made jelly with mine, though I had to boil it twice and add extra pectin before it would conform to the rose tint and perfect set.
Glenn xx

The Crow said...

I adore the jaunty angle of Mr. Quince's hat! Made me laugh out loud.

Ellena said...

Oh, cerises de terre!
I have never tasted them raw.
La confiture goÛte le soleil.

Lucy said...

Hello Glenn! What a pity I can't save you some to play with when you come in February, but I fear they would have putrefied by then, a fact which discourages us from putting one in the cars, as well as that they would roll around most annoyingly! We wondered if they might in Japanese cars be placed inside one of the delightfully joined pale wooden boxes in which our sake glass was placed, to avoid spillage, in a Japanese restaurant we went to in Paris. The world is full of mystery... I think often and with pleasure of those ethnic run small stores in Cardiff, though the street names, while familiar, now elude me.

Crow - funny faced fruit and veg, I can never resist!

Ellena - I didn't know they were called that, I've not seen it here. I imagine the jam is very tasty. I think they can quite easily be grown under glass here, but the plants are very sprawling and untidy.

christopher said...

I am glad you're alive too. You and Tom... I appreciate you both.

Anonymous said...

Scroll down to the Quince Tree's recipes for quinces!


Anonymous said...

The bottom few pictures of the flower and fruits in a husk are tomatillos! Common here in the southwest US and in Mexico - used in salsa and a number of recipes.

Just google tomatillo recipes for ideas.

Francesca said...

I've never seen the physalis flower before - it's lovely!
And the scowly quince face is just great. xx

Roderick Robinson said...

Living in a medieval tapestry. I don't find that hard to envisage; you wearing one of those dresses with a square neckline and a hat resembling an old-fashioned TV aerial. But the essence of the thing is the position of the hands. Many of the wrists appear broken or at least inoperative. As a result the hands hang down like autumn leaves. Such feminine feebleness isn't truly you but I can imagine you being a good sport and posing (for days and days) as the seamstresses slave to capture the likeness.

I did tax VR on the subject of quinces and she mentioned a spicy sauce - upmarket HP - she once made. But the details escape me and as I write she sleepeth.

Lyse said...

Lucy tu as des "physalis" dans ton jardin, ou encore appelés " coquerets du Pérou". Nous en avons cutiver des centaines de pieds au jardin et les graines qui tombent se resèment toutes seules. Les physalis sont riches en vitamines et surtout vitamines C. J'en ai fait plein de gelées , les fruits servent à l'apéro ou encore en déco sur des pâtisserie ou sur des plats de charcuteries. Cette année on n'en a pas . Gardes les graines pour sesemer si tu veux . Bises

Mailizhen said...

". . . reminds me I'm alive, and glad of it." A big yes to that one. Lovely blog, and now I would like to try one of these fruits. Although I must disagree re starfruit; I adore them.
- alison