I’m delighted to be participating in Deborah Hemming’s Women in the Kitchen series, which explores the different relationships specific women have with cooking and kitchen spaces. As you may have surmised, this is a favorite topic of mine; for me, cooking is a radical act of self-care, but I do sometimes feel the hot breath of gendered expectations down my neck when I cook for others. Anyway, my Q&A won’t be up until next week sometime, but stop by to check out the other women in the series as well as Deborah’s beautiful food photography.
I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen raw quinces for sale, but having tasted the jewel-toned confection that is membrillo, I’ve always wanted to try cooking them. Render’s resident chemist, Claire Lower, describes the three components of quinces that make them such shapeshifting fruits, capable of transforming from an unappetizing raw growth to a beautiful jelly of complex sweetness, and she offers a very simple recipe in case you ever do come across a quince tree.
If I were to stew quinces, I would for certain be thinking of one of my favorite food passages of all time. Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt is written from the perspective of Binh, a young man who flees Vietnam and comes to work for Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas in Paris. Binh falls in love with an American man with “coffee and cinnamon” eyes–he calls him his “Sunday man”–and while he is in the first throes of infatuation, Gertrude Stein randomly starts asking Binh questions in order to mine his halting, incomplete French for her own wordplay. She asks Binh how he would define love, and he points wordlessly to a bowl of quinces and leaves the room. To himself, he thinks:
Quinces are ripe, GertrudeStein, when they are the yellow of canary wings in midflight. They are ripe when their scent teases you with the snap of green apples and the perfumed embrace of coral roses. But even then quinces remain a fruit, hard and obstinate–useless, GertudeStein, until they are simmered, coddled for hours above a low, steady flame. Add honey and water and watch their dry, bone-colored flesh soak-up the heat, coating itself in an opulent orange, not of the sunrises that you never see but of the insides of tree-ripened papayas, a color you can taste. To answer your question, GertrudeStein, love is not a bowl of quinces yellowing in a blue and white china bowl, seen but untouched.
Sociological Images added a hilarious new Pinterest board called “Sexy What!?” It includes all manner of absurd sexualization in ads and other forms of marketing, but you’ll notice quite a few of their examples involve food: the flirtatious green M&M, cheese which is best served naked, espresso to be drunk in a rumpled bed, peaches wearing little lacy underpants, fruit pretending to undress in order to become that most unsexy dessert, the fruit cup. The fruit examples reminded me of this older Sociological Images post about sexualized fruit and veg in a Redbook spread about oral sex, and of course the delectably filthy song “Peach” by Novel. Fruit is so easy to anthropomorphize in a sexual manner: it has flesh; it can be sometimes mapped onto the human body (c.f. pears); all the high praise for fruit–sweet, juicy, ready–slots itself easily into the food metaphors we already used for sex. But the effect of this visual punning is rarely itself sexy; it tends to fall on a spectrum of playfulness from whimsical to facile.
(I hope this post is not read by the author of this Buzzfeed listicle, who apparently has a deep visceral horror of unpeeled fruit.)
On a far less prurient note: have you played with Yelp Trends yet? I used it to pit a classic Philly treat against those newcomers, the cupcake and the macaron:
Eater used it to look at a number of different trends in different cities, with not too surprising results.