Saturday, 2 November 2013
Quinces and Marriage
(In 2010 I have posted this essay - slightly altered - before. But: I had quinces before - and you are new readers, so: why not?)
When I enter my study the whole room wraps me in a fragrance that is beyond comparison. I had put on my desk some quinces! Lovingly I had polished that fluffy fur away which sits on their hard skin and now they shine bright yellow. And scent! Yes, you can really smell that they actually belong to the rose family, rosacea.
"Cydonic apple," apple from Crete, so the quince is called in Greece. Cydonia oblong chez nous. But mine are pear-shaped, which means they are even more aromatic than their chubby sisters.
Quinces need to be cooked - although I have a Turkish recipe where I mix finely grated (peeled) raw quince (almost a mousse) with equal parts of runny honey and whipped cream - delicious! It is the favourite dessert of Husband, but I don't serve it often (though I have quinces en masse) - because I want him to stay the tall slim man he is now and not get the belly of a sultan in 'Thousand and One Nights'.
Another speciality is my 'North German Quince Compote' - which also brims over with calories (well - winter comes, you need some strength!) Here it is:
First you boil the peeled quince pieces in thick sugar syrup, the quince-pieces have to remain still a little bit firm (not mushy), and when they have cooled down you add your best Armagnac in which they bathe for six weeks (in a closed glass - and don't put it into the sun!). Then they turn deeply red and then, served on a plate, they cry out for a little bit of walnut-ice-cream with whipped cream...
But the quince is not only a beautiful canvas on which you can paint with calories - it is also a carrier of deep meanings. So prescribed Solon the Athenean 600 years before Christ a marriage ritual: the engaged couple had to eat a raw quince before the wedding night.
Plutarch interpreted this ritual by saying that the sweet smell and the lovely taste with the acerbic addition were "a forecast of the suffering and sweetness of marriage". (Interesting that he mentions the suffering first...)
And the Silesian preacher Johann Colerus jeered that by this ritual young women were shown "that they now must bite into some sour apples - on behalf of a man." But I think, as they had to do that both of them, husband and wife, maybe that's why we say in Germany: "Now we are even" = Jetzt sind wir quitt" - because the German word for quince is 'Quitte').
But that might be very simple 'popular' false etymology. I interpret the quince-biting my way: the character of a spouse is as difficult to see through as a quince is difficult to cut.
Or: do not rely on the shiny exterior of a just-married lover alone, but work hard to keep that love alive and sweet - you have to work on a quince to be able to enjoy it... And you yourself have to add sugar to your marriage - "Nothing comes from nothing." Ha!
Anyhow: I will have to think thoroughly whom I bestow the great masses of quinces in this harvest upon, because "the gift of a quince ... always is seen as a declaration of love."
OH!! Fancy a quince, dear??