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In the Garden

Oct 03, 2017 09:59PM ● By Lesley Stiles

Quince and Pears... It Must be Fall

By Lesley Stiles

As climates cool and the sun decides to stay in our daily consciousness a little less each day, pear season slides in, bearing delightfully heavy upon us, and we know the Alhambra Valley pear people are rocking it hard. If you can imagine a pear that is tartly sweet with creamy flesh, just the right amount of give, and a mouthful of luscious juice in every bite, it is invariably an Alhambra Valley pear. Darrel and Judy, and Ben and Pearl run a super operation out in the valley, showing up to farmers’ markets just when thoughts of pears sluice into your taste center. Local range-fed beef is also on the sales sheet at their booth and is not to be passed by. If you are indeed a consumer of the cow, feel morally obligated to give their beef a try as they use all good practices raising cattle to bring it cleanly, from their family to yours, with honest, local integrity.

As summer begins weakening her all too short hold on our lives, sweaters appear, shorts find their way into drawers for a couple months, and broccoli becomes a staple again. Soups find a sweet spot in your mind, and butternut squash bends tables while late summer tomatoes reluctantly give up well-earned and hard-kept real estate. Basil gives way to cilantro, while peach and nectarine spots are filled with persimmons and pomegranates. They say we have no seasons out West, but we know we do. It shows on our plates and in our gardens. Lettuce suddenly gets crisper and more colorful. Bags of spinach dominate with baby arugula. Shortly, locally grown Satsuma mandarins are going to invade. At present, colorfully fluorescent grapes and peppers dominate as their seasons peak, reveling in tired sunrays. Chards, kales, and greens of all kinds get top billing, with fluffy white and multi-colored cauliflowers sharing the limelight with the lime.

We have seasonal change all right, perhaps less pronounced than across the country, but here our plates reflect the changes, where a pretty red tree might elsewhere. Truth be told, we enviably produce most of our country’s produce, the common and utilitarian as well as rare oddities here and there, to be found on farmers’ market tables only. Figs and quince come directly to mind. Figs are almost done by now, but quince are another beastie altogether.

Appearing as an otherworldly cross between apples and pears, quince is a lesson in contradictions. Bearing brilliant, much sought after ruby blossoms on long, gangly stalks in spring, quince morphs into lumpy, bumpy, misshapen, grey, fuzz-covered, extremely bitter fruit as the flowers fall. After months of ripening on the tree, autumn quince emerge much as a beautiful butterfly or a shoeless princess, as a smooth, creamy, yellow, slightly misshapen cross between pear and apple.

Ancient in lineage and hailing from Turkey and across Southeast Asia, quince somehow ended up in a Roman pot, leading to migration to the Americas around the 15th century. Commonly cooked into alluringly scented vanilla and cinnamon jam, then lovingly devoured on biscuits, scones, and toast, quince can be stewed and served with ice cream or honey-sweetened mascarpone. Core and cut quince into 8ths while heating a pot of half water and half sweet red wine, some course turbinado sugar, a cinnamon stick, and a clove to boiling. Reduce to a simmer and place quince in, simmering slowly for a half hour. Remove when tender and garnet colored, serve warm with aforementioned accompaniments. Quince is also nice cubed up and added to homemade applesauce, simmered alongside and sharing flavors with the apples, delicately blushing the jeweled sauce. Quince lends their flavor and texture to savory dishes as well. Roast cubed quince alongside cubed butternut squash and sliced leeks and toss into stews or risottos, adding a mysteriously alluring dimension to the dish with the ancient muse.

Treasured fall crops are ours to do with as we see fit. Honey colored hills surrounding our valley are ours to do with as we see fit, to stay fit.  Prepare lovingly comfortable home cooked meals and take each other on hikes through the ridges and valleys we call home. Seasonal privilege is ours because we have seasons, and as we enter into one of my favorite times, fall to winter, enjoy the delightful lighter air quality, the smokeless views of Mount Diablo, and the pears!


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