The time of year when most of my photos, even those taken at midday (such as these) are going to be taken with a flash, because the sun is going to sleep in this part of the world, and also the time when Cydonia (and other i.e. Chaenomeles) quince and pomegranate fruit ripen in the Northern Hemisphere. To me, the arrival of these two fruit in the Middle-Eastern stores (and better-stocked produce departments of supermarkets, if you are lucky) are what truly marks the end of what I think of as ‘harvest’ autumn with its mushrooms and berries, and the beginning of the slow parade towards winter, with its imported fruit such as these, my much-loved tiny short-season clementine oranges in their cute wooden crates, baking with saffron and ginger, cooking a few pans of chocolate and other sorts of fudge, baking cookies (especially these Margarita cookies!), and drinking heated, cognac-spiked Nordic glögg (which is totally not the same thing as mulled wine!) full of booze-drowned raisins and almonds, and all those other luxurious things which feel so very appropriate to the dark and cold season.
That said, I should note that I love living in the 21st century with its logistics capabilities, so that the pomegranates, the quinces and the rest of winter-holiday indulgences are simply and inexpensively available to most, and are no longer the province of the royal and wealthy noble tables.
I have previously written much and enthusiastically about my love of all things quince and the fantastic jam you can make even from the tiny and hard-to-core fruit of the flowering quince bushes. I probably haven’t waxed poetic nearly enough on the subject of the glorious drink that is quince-and-spice infused rum. I should, next time I make a batch, speak of it again, with feeling.
In short, I love quinces, although to be frank, a quince is an easy fruit to love – placed on a table in a bowl it’ll perfume your kitchen for months with its heavenly fragrance without rotting! – but a hard fruit to eat. I mean that literally. They are rock-hard even when fully ripe – the sort of hammer-nails-in-with-it hardness you’d expect of a well-cured winter squash, not of something that smells like pineapples gone to heaven, and looks so much like a banana-yellow apple-relative. However, I could probably easily say that it is my favorite fruit to cook with. Essentially, the best way to treat a quince is either to use it for flavoring, such as alcohol infusion, or to cook it, slowly and thoroughly. It really shines in jam (the probable destination of at least two out of the three that I have bought), it brings an altogether otherworldly dimension when sliced very thinly and added to a humble apple pie, and it brings a delicately aromatic note to slow-cooked and well-spiced stews of any Central-Asian or North-African interpretation (similar to winter squash, as it happens, which also works really well in these).
While on the subject of seasonal fruit, one of my other all-time favorites deserving of more than honorable mention, is the pomegranate.
In a similar manner to quince, it’s a fruit that looks gorgeous, and is somewhat annoying to get into – but oh, so very worth the effort. That said, I wouild like to say that the best method for getting the seeds out of one without covering oneself and entire kitchen in hard-to-get-out red juice stains is to halve the fruit, and plunge one’s hands with each half in turn into a deep bowl of cool water, separating the grains underwater. It prevents the juice splats, and also is handy since the bitter peel and membranes float, while intact seeds sink to the bottom.
Once you’ve gotten the red gold that are the seeds separated from their packaging, what you do with them is entirely up to you – they are fresh-flavored, slightly acid and altogether delicious simply eaten out of bowl with a hand (or a spoon if you are being formal), scattered over salads or any sort of dessert, or made into ice cream. One of my favorite ways to eat them is as a part of Persian ‘Jeweled Rice’ – a dish with saffron, pistachio nuts and a lot of other glorious things which resembles nothing more than a dragon’s hoard – a pile of gold with red and green gems scattered throughout. And hm, now that I have mentioned it, that will probably be the fate of at least half of one of those pomegranates. We shall see (meaning, you, too, shall see if I end up making it, which I hopefully will at some point this winter, if not as soon as this week)!
When I last looked (that was yesterday), my favorite Middle-Eastern shop here in Jyväskylä was nearly out of quinces (I bought 3 of the remaining 4), but they promised to maybe get new ones in this Friday. Their fruit fridge was, however, overflowing with ripe and gorgeous pomegranates. What does that mean? Well, probably that it is the time of year when my greed is even more evident than at any other time of year, and that I will probably head there again. Soon. Like, this coming Friday or Saturday soon.
Because who can’t use more pomegranates or quinces, am I right?