Where I live in Australia, summer has definitely departed and now we have cold nights and nippy days. The wind cuts through clothing and flesh. It is a time for harvesting, although one might have hoped for a longer summer and better success with the summer delights: tomatoes, aubergines and peppers. No doubt the odd summers we have had are a result of climate change. All but one tomato plant have died. It is persevering and not looking frost-burnt yet. Perhaps it is protected by the overhang of the verandah.
Leaves are turning and the wind whips a swirl of burnished red and gold. Puddles gleam in the refracted lights from buildings and passing cars. Autumn, despite the farewell to summer, is a beautiful season. Although now we say good-bye to stone fruits and enjoy the last of the grapes, we can welcome in quinces, surely a celebration of life. As they slowly cook from butter yellow to ruby red, their perfume permeates the house.
Some years ago I followed a recipe of Maggie Beer (from Tuscan Cookbook: Stephanie Alexander and Maggie Beer, Penquin Books, 1998). As I prepared and let the quinces slowly cook, I was transported into a pleasant reverie that inspired the poem below.
A RECIPE FOR QUINCES
The recipe called for six quinces.
The quinces cuddled in the wicker basket
Yellow skins covered in soft brown down;
Their almost imperceptible scent hovered in the air.
In spring the satin white blossom
Peeks from behind leaves, just a little shy,
Harbinger of sweetened breaths of brides;
The fruit of Aphrodite plotting Atlanta’s downfall.
The recipe said to bathe the fruit
And gently rub away the covering plume
Until the smooth golden skin glows
And the whole of the sculpted fruit is fully revealed.
No paring of the fruit required:
No opening up the coarse dull flesh beneath
Like some strange sandpaper, tooth rasping;
No astringent taste of its rawness or its pinching skin.
The recipe required tight packing
In a warm bath of sugar sweetened water
No more: just fruit, water and sugar –
The secret to be revealed by the completeness of the fruit.
Is this the apple that tempted Eve,
Who like Atlanta eschewed not the offering?
Did they catch the perfume of its golden skin
Enchanted and then seduced to take the fateful bite?
The recipe did not say five hours
Of slow cooking would release a fragrance
That would suffuse a room with perfume:
The richness of roses and clean apple-blossom sweetness.
Words fail me and I must ask you
To match your words to what I can not:
For all of us at some time or other
Find the words that may elude even the best of poets.
The recipe foretold colour change
From pale orange to a hue dyers dream of –
A secret that only nature knows:
A deep, burnt orange, the colour of a rare jewel.
Before tasting add lemon and its zest
To permeate the fruit and mingle with the juice –
Cutting the sweetness, adding a tang,
Developing a flavour I thought only gods dream of.
A fruited gem now lies on the plate
In a shallow pool of brilliant juice.
Taste, and sing praise to Demeter,
Goddess of harvests now and to come.