Behind our farmhouse was a single tortured old quince tree, its trunk covered in moss and lichen. For most of the year it resembled a grumpy old man and stood wretched and solitary, its spindly branches bare until spring when it would transform, covered with beautiful apple-like blooms followed by the most exquisite, aromatic fruit in autumn.
To a curious small child like myself quince was the most horrid fruit. How could something with such a beautiful form and charming scent be so frustratingly inedible when raw. Every April I would gaze at the tree with a strong urge to devour every last fruit on it — such was my need for instant food gratification as a small boy. But the grumpy tree would deny me and I had to be patient as my mother turned the yellow-skinned beasts into ruby confections in her big old Dutch oven, an old Le Creuset. This was one of the desserts on my first menu at Attica and was inspired by the childhood memory of my mum’s own version.
Many a jam, jelly and preserved quince came out of her big pot. Eventually my mum inadvertently burnt the old Le Creuset beyond repair. It was cast away to the bottom paddock of our farm, where it filled with rainwater and sheep used it as a drinking trough, but the bright fiery orange colour would always catch my eye among the green pasture.
Many years later I was working for the Governor-General of New Zealand as a sous chef and found an enormous Dutch oven hidden in the dusty corner of a storeroom. It was a very similar colour to my mother’s. It was the biggest Le Creuset I’d ever seen and I am sure it was part of a commercial range they made in the 1950s. This old treasure was going to be thrown away, so, always the magpie, I quickly put my hand up for it. For many happy years in New Zealand it bumped around in the back of my station wagon, at the ready for an impromptu meal on the beach after many a surfing trip. Now the old Dutch oven has found a new home, a rightful proud place in our humble kitchen.
Place a dessertspoon of the almond crumble in the middle of each plate. Using a palette knife, place a quince half, yoghurt side down, on top. Pour a little of the quince-cooking syrup around the quince and sprinkle a little of the lemon zest powder over to finish.
© 2012 All rights reserved. Published by Murdoch Books.