Last night, M. and I enjoyed the most luscious of Turkish desserts, Ayva tatlısı or quince sweet. And it was a welcome change to our diet of take out food – none of which has included dessert.
Much to my surprise, the last few weeks have involved the consumption of takeout food. The Karagoz puppets, along with M’Lady, M. and the dog, have STILL been totally wiped out from the series of ongoing health challenges M’Lady is facing.
In the face of all the takeout boxes, Kenne, (the queen of etiquette and maintenance of ladylike behavior puppet) has even given up on encouraging me to cook, instead focusing on the etiquette of how to deal with delivery people. She is basing her teachings on Miss Manner’s Guide to Saving Modern Civilization, an updated version of the original etiquette guide.
So, given all the focus on takeout and the eating of cereal, one might imagine my surprise when M. walked in the door with a bag of lemons, a box of sugar and four quinces. Quince, in case you don’t know, is “ayva” in Turkish, and looks like an odd-shaped, bumpy yellow pear.
I grew up with my Granny’s quince jelly on Cape Cod (a rendition of the Spanish version she grew up with in Murcia) and often buy the Turkish brand Tamek’s Ayva Receli (quince jam). It is a comfort food for me as it reminds me of Granny. The fact that M. and I share a love of Quinces is wonderful – a small way that our very different upbringings intersect. Celebi, the Modernist puppet, remarks “See, M’Lady, there is always a way to connect in a cross-cultural marriage, even in the age of globalization, in this case, via the simple Quince!”
As M. barreled into the kitchen, he announced, with glee, that he was going to cook Ayva tatlısı. While directly translated as something along the lines of “quince sweet,” this dish is really a poached, spiced quince. For YEARS, M. has explained how much he loves this dish, dreamt of this dish in quince season and lamented not being in Turkey at the right time to consume as much Ayva tatlısı as possible.
Dropping the bag on the kitchen counter, M. began to work in a frenzy, opening drawers with abandon, like a confused whirling dervish unsure of his new surroundings. I followed along in shock. Looking into the china drawer, he yelled “where’s the cinnamon, I need it!” I suggested looking in the spice cabinet. “What about a cooking spoon?”Giggling, I pointed to the utensil drawer. And it went on like this for a bit. Mercan Bey, the Arabian Spice Trader Puppet looked on in shock and a bit of woe, as he realized that M. did not know the kitchen so well. “I have made such an effort,” Mercan Bey said glumly, “to stock this kitchen with every Turkish spice imagineable…and he doesn’t even know where they are” While an amazing cook during our courtship, M. rarely cooks now despite his significant skill. To his credit, he does just about EVERYTHING else in the house, so who is to complain? Nodding his head, Mercan Bey agreed. It is rare to see a Turkish man vacuum, clean the bathroom and do the shopping…all of which he has done since I am sick.
After securing all of his ingredients in a precarious perch on the counter, he dashed to his desk, calling up a Turkish-language recipe for the dish he has threatened to make for the last nine years but never seem to find the time. This is “the dish that got away” during our courtship. Zenne, the Nervous Nellie like a Dish of Quince Jelly Puppet suggested with hands on her cheeks “Perhaps you are on to a new phase in your courtship?” I smiled, as we are reaching the point of 10 years together.
As M. worked away in the kitchen, I rested in bed as the onset of lovely wafts of quince and cinnamon made their way across the breezes of the house. One of the best parts of the cloud of sickness and fatigue that has plagued this house as of late, is that we are stopping to smell the roses a bit more, as much as we can. Although the process of getting the Ayva tatlısı to the right color and consistency took longer than the recipe suggested, M. was in freestyling mode, and it came out just perfectly….here is M.’s “personal recipe.”
Ayva tatlısı or quince sweet a la M.
You will need: 4 Quinces (peeled, halved and cored, with all seeds, peels and detritus reserved); 1 Cinnamon stick (preferably the soft and crumbly Cassia version); a few cloves; 1.5 drinking glasses of water; 2 drinking glasses of sugar.
As you peel and core each quince half, place them in lemon-infused cold water. They may float, it’s ok.
Place the quinces in the bottom of a large, thick-bottomed saucepan, such as a Le Creuset enamelled cast iron pot. Cover them 3/4 of the way with the water. Place the peels and detritus around the quince halves. Separate the seeds and place them inside the hollow core of each quince half – this will give the dish its signature pink color. Place the cinnamon stick in the center of the quinces
Bring the pot to a boil on medium heat, then add sugar, and cook on low, for an hour and a half or more, until the quince halves begin to turn pink.
You must watch the stove the whole time.
Place on a dish with quince syrup from what is remaining in the pot – garnish with kaymak and crumbled toasted walnut and proclaim “AFIYET OLSUN!” (bon appetit) with glee!
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