Culinary Meditations. How To Poach A Quince - Par Femme

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by Par Femme

The kitchen — in all its glory — evokes a nostalgia, catharsis and clarity fundamental to the human condition. Cooking is an art form, not because of the methods or science involved, but because the act can be more spiritual that stepping into a Georgia O’Keeffe painting. Just as flour trickles through a sieve, so do feelings, an experience that cleanses one's inner space and proves a salve to life's quotidian hurdles. 

An often emotional pursuit, the art of cooking stuffs your soul silly; it can be stirring and psychological, solitary and sociable, decadent and virtuous. It can atone your sins, solve life's greatest riddles or supply the most sybaritic of pleasures (eating good food), offering an experiential richness that doesn't come about too often.

For Claudia De Berardinis, Sydney chef and founder of WOMANFOOD, cooking is exactly this: cathartic and deeply emotional. It can be cruel at times, it can be kind, but it always makes her feel. This emotional connection to food is served most beautifully via her culinary-inspired Instagram account, whereby she captures both the purposeful and accidental beauty of her kitchen and the blissfully untethered moments within in. Cast through a soft, feminine and deeply sensual lens, her meditations over food are articulated through an intoxicating visual essay that is both poignant and powerful (and indeed, leaves you salivating).

Here, in comfort and contentment, she shows us how to poach a quince, and explains the meditative joy that comes from a session over the stove.

When the temperature drops and the air turns crisp, the poaching of fruit is an honest way to take comfort in the change, even just for a moment. The quince — a fruit few have very little to do with — is a good place to start. It’s old-fashioned, somewhere between a pear and an apple, and far too astringent to eat raw, yet when given your most undivided attention over the stove, will cook down to the sweetest of somethings.

I am naturally a hermit and so, when a kind of Autumnal depression ascends upon me almost overnight, a cooking project of some sort seems like the right thing to do. Poaching, the method of submerging fruit in a combination of water, sugar and aromatics, bringing to a rapid boil and then leaving to a peaceful simmer feels somewhat metaphoric. The ambiguity of a new season is uncomfortable at first. We shed our summer's sun-kissed rind and take on a new skin with an all-too familiar resistance.

Yet like with the ending of a storm, the ocean will eventually calm.
You will lose yourself and then find yourself once more.
This is the very nature of being, of seasonality and similarly, the very nature of poaching.
What starts out as something inedible, almost unapproachable, turns to the softest, silkiest, most moreish of eatings.
And it all starts with a quince.

4 cups of water
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey
4 x quince, peeled, cored and cut into quarters
1 x navel orange, skin on, cut into 1cm thick slices
1 x small cinnamon quill
A bay leaf, or two
Some cloves, if you feel like it.

1. Mix water, sugar, honey, orange, cinnamon, bay leaf and cloves in a large non-reactive pot and bring to a boil over medium to high heat.
2. As you prepare the quinces (peeled, cored and cut into quarters), remove any overly fibrous pieces close to the core if necessary with a paring knife. Drop one by one into the simmering liquid and once all in, cover with a round of parchment paper with a small hole cut into the centre and place it on top.
3. Simmer the quince for at least an hour until cooked through. You can test if cooked by piercing a piece of quince with a sharp paring knife.

You can store them in their cooking liquid for up to a week in the fridge. They are very lovely atop greek yoghurt or some porridge but I also love to add them as part of a Moroccan tagine with couscous for that sour/sweet effect. You can also make no fuss at all and just sink your teeth into them whilst standing over the kitchen bench, as I have done many a times before. It’s all just fleeting at the end of the day and that is the real beauty of cooking, that too of life or what I know of it so far after many, many meditations over the stove. 

Claudia De Berardinis is a Sydney-based chef, writer and founder of WOMANFOOD. You can salivate over her wondrous cooking here, or enjoy her food at Sean's Panaroma.

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