Oh wind blow cold
The wind has blown in the garden. Understand though that the bise is no ordinary wind. It tears down from northern places, funneling through the glacial plane down towards the lake. It transforms the seasons. It pushes the clouds to the other side of the lake, where they sit on the towns of the Haute Savoie, piled up like rather chilly pillows against a French Alpine headboard. The bise finds the quickest path to strike your bones with its rasp. It’s a different cold to the seeping damp of my childhood winters (that one you couldn’t hope to escape). This is a cold to remind you that snow is due. That it will be for your bedside light to drag you out of bed in the morning now, and no longer the dawn brightening over the trees. The first snow has fallen on the tops of the mountains. In Christiane’s rambling, wonderful garden, autumn’s fruit is ready.
Against the bise, a tree groaning with quince needs relief. On Thursday morning, the local eau de vie maker turned up unexpectedly but helpfully early to climb the ladders and pick all the fruit from the tree, heap them into boxes, and take a good pile home for himself. By the time we arrived two days later, the bise had calmed, a gentle autumn warmth had settled in, and just one lone quince hung dutifully from a top branch, courageously sticking it out to the end. But there was still need for our toil: behind a wall and hidden underneath their heavy leaves, the kiwi fruit were quietly waiting.
We set to with scissors and baskets. Kiwi, I learnt this weekend, are a great storage fruit. You can pick them before they’re ripe, and leave them in their boxes in different environments. Warmth and light to bring them on faster. A cold, shaded balcony will help them hold out a little longer. Up to April apparently, if all goes well and the dark cool is enough. In little more than half an hour, we had picked a very large tray full. Enough for our own purposes, with some to leave behind for others.
There were walnuts too. More than anyone knew what to do with (although no doubt our eau de vie guy would have some brilliant ideas). An hour or two and a couple of cheerful cups of tea later, we heaved the boxes of kiwi, quince and walnuts into the car and set off down the road. I was a useless traveling companion. No chat at all. Round and round my head whirred a single thought. What – other than a rather repetitive winter dessert offering of membrillo, walnuts and kiwi – could I do with it all?
Some of the quince will become membrillo and jelly and Christmas Pudding, certainly. But I’m loathe to stop there. If the published recipes are thin on the ground, the trick with quince is to remember that you can use it just like a sharp, tangy apple. Combine that thought with the walnuts, add an apple spice bar recipe from the Fat Witch Bakery cookbook, and things start to look up. I pulled out the nutcracker (never thought I’d use it twice in one year), the muscovado sugar and half the spices on the shelf, and the result was a rather contented me. There’ll be more where that came from.
I’m still in denial though when it comes to the kiwi. I’m counting on that whole “on a shaded balcony with enough cold, they’ll take a while to ripen” theory. Suddenly, the bise has its purposes. Blow wind, blow.