The Moxhams love a quince. Outside my parents’ house in London there’s a big quince tree and for the last 22 years there has been an annual discussion about the bounty of fruit, or lack of fruit, or relative quality of fruit, or what to do with all the bloody fruit. Then the postcards start arriving. ‘Hello, I noticed you’ve got a quince tree. I’d love some of your quinces!’
Four years ago I was in London in autumn, pregnant and with nothing to do except incubate a baby. Dad had a particularly good harvest of the quinces and a local gastropub said they would like some. I put a massive bucket of fruit in the back of my car and then got distracted so the bucket sat there for a couple of days. When I finally managed to find time in my hectic pregnancy-yoga schedule to deliver the quinces, the car had been infused with a fruity, ripe smell so fertile it was obscene. I spent the next 2 months driving round with the windows open. That little Nissan Micra is now on its last legs, but if you get in it on a warm day you’ll still catch a whiff of over-ripe fruit.
Shortly after Dad has harvested his annual bounty, he’ll activate the production line. Great stainless steel vats will appear and be filled with fruit to be spiced, boiled, sieved. Then the annual discussions about pectin and consistency will begin and we will all wonder, for hours, why the membrillo isn’t setting?
It was therefore fitting that my parents gave us a picture of a quince as our wedding present – a token marking the metaphorical leaving of the family nest, a painting of the fruit that is basically an honorary member of the family. They commissioned Nicola Green to paint a portrait of a quince from our tree, which Dad had carefully chosen and delivered to her. The painting has survived travelling to Qatar and back and is one of my most prized possessions.
So a few weeks ago I was at ‘home’ and noticed Dad had picked the quinces. They were sitting in one of the requisite buckets so I nicked a few and found a recipe for meatballs with quince. I love this Jerusalem book by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. It is beautifully published with lovely Arabic calligraphy patterns and vivid photos of evocative streets and tempting food. Apart from the obvious appeal of the quince, the recipe also involves using pomegranate molasses which I bought a massive bottle of a while ago and now try to include in all my cooking.
My meatballs looked absolutely nothing like this wonderful photograph. Thank goodness for the pomegranate, otherwise it would have been a bland, grey dish more suited to 1970s school dinners than being photographed. But it tasted good, in a sort of quince-y way which made me think it’s a good thing Dad boils and sieves most of them.