Making The Most Of Quince

Golden quince shimmer in late autumn sun

From Funky To Fabulous

Lumpy, rock hard, and fiercely tart when raw, quince is an uncommon backyard fruit these days. However, cooking works magic on this unassuming fruit, which was once the ‘golden apple’ of lore and myth. Native from Greece to Persia, quince has many varieties, some ancient, some developed more recently as it made its way across the then-New World. Edible quince trees and shrubs have generally small flowers and hefty fruit, while decorative flowering quince have showy, fragrant flowers and small fruit that are generally held to be inedible.

My Ukrainian neighbor has a lovely small tree that was bending under a huge crop of fruit this year. When I passed by recently, the oldest son was up a ladder, handing down fat golden fruit to his mother, who carefully chose some perfect specimens for me. I was delighted, as there are several favorite quince dishes that add a piquant note to holiday meals. Quince jam or jelly is equally delicious on toast or mixed into soft goat cheese and served with salmon or poultry. Sliceable quince paste, aka membrillo, is a traditional partner for sharp aged cheeses but also makes an intriguing filling for chocolate cake or truffles. My grandkids call little membrillo cubes ‘quince gummies’ and they like to stir quince jam into vanilla pudding, which they just learned how to make in time for the holidays. Speaking of which, may your holidays be peaceful and restorative, as I hope ours will be(!).

Ukrainian Quince Dessert

My neighbor makes a simple and subtly sweet traditional dessert from ripe quince that’s a lovely way to savor this unusual fruit. She says, “Wash quince and cut in half, remove the core and dice the fruit. Put in a saucepan with a little water (as if making applesauce). Cook over medium low heat until the cubes soften and expand. Serve warm with some sour cream mixed with honey.”

Jammin’ With Quince

Though quince fruit is cream colored, when cooked, it turns rosy. One of my favorite food writers, Harold McGee, explains that heat changes the tannins that make raw quince so astringent, and as they break down, they release anthocyanins, which range from the red of cabbage to the blue of blueberries. If quince is peeled, the jam will be pinker, but if unpeeled (the Ukrainian way), the result will be more of an autumnal golden color.

We like this chunky jam on rosemary sourdough toast

Rustic Quince Jam

Start by peeling (optional), coring, and chopping the fruit. For a less rustic effect, grate the fruit (it will also cook more quickly).

3 cups water
4 cups chopped or grated quince
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest (optional)
3 cups cane sugar

Bring water to a boil in a large pot. Add fruit, lemon juice, and rind (if using), return to a boil and simmer until tender (10-15 minutes depending on size of pieces). Add sugar, stir until dissolved, then reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens and turns rosy. If need be, add a little more boiling water and continue simmering until jam is thick and pink. When a spoonful put in a saucer gels quickly, pour the jam into 4 prepared 8-ounce jars, seal and process in a boiling water bath. Makes about 4 cups.

Membrillo (Quince Paste)

Thick, sweet quince paste is prized throughout South and Central America and much of Europe. Again, peeling the quince makes for a rosier paste, while leaving the peels on usually results in a caramel color.


Avocado or any vegetable oil
2 pounds (about 6 cups) washed, 
and chopped quince
1 cup water
3-1/2 cups cane sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Lightly oil a glass baking dish (8×8 or 9×9 inch), set aside. Combine fruit in a large sauce pan with the water, sugar, and lemon juice. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally. The mixture will turn golden, then rosier as it simmers. When it reaches 220 degrees F, pour a spoonful into a saucer and let it cool; if the mixture sets a bit, it’s done. If not, keep simmering until it gels on the plate. Remove from heat, let it cool a little, then puree with an immersion blender or food processor and pour into the oiled pan. Smooth the top with a soft spatula and cool to room temperature. Cover tightly and chill in refrigerator for a few days until fully set and firm. Run a knife around the edges and flip the paste onto a clean cutting surface. Cut in squares, wrap each piece tightly, and refrigerate for 2-3 months or freeze for 6-12 months.


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Serving The Planet With Plants

Even tiny gardens honor and serve the earth

So Many Ways To Serve

On Friday I facilitated a fascinating and troubling conversation with a group of service veterans, a few still active, most long-retired. They shared stories about some of the hidden costs of service, from not being around to raise your own kids to returning from active duty in Viet Nam to be harassed and jeered at by civilians. One main theme that ran through the stories was the deep bond they share to this day, recognizing each other as brothers and sisters no matter when or where they served. The word camaraderie was mentioned many times and was obvious in the respectful, affectionate way they listened to each other and encouraged each person to speak.

That bond of sibling-hood seems beautiful to me, as does the kindness every participant displayed towards the others. However, there were also comments expressing the idea that people who don’t participate in military service don’t appreciate their freedom and “don’t know who paid for it.” It didn’t really need that to make very aware of my own complex feelings about the many ways we may be protectors of freedoms of many kinds. During the Viet Nam years, I was an active war protestor and though I certainly never felt or expressed animosity towards anyone who served our country (or any country), I did and do feel strongly that far too many wars are less about righteousness than about political power and corporate interests. I also have strong feelings about the nature of service, and what we may choose to be in service towards. Personally, I want my life to serve not just family and country but the planet and all its myriad, marvelous beings.

Building Powerful Connections

In my lifetime, that tension between those who fought and those who did not has echoed and reverberated through the civil rights movement, women’s liberation, Black power, gay pride and more. All those powerful social justice energies provoked shifts in awareness that are still changing the world, but always so slowly and painfully. I’ve been thinking all weekend about the intense bonding those veterans share, and how sadly rare that camaraderie has been in the various social justice movements I’ve participated in. There were certainly moments of feeling part of something larger than ourselves during peaceful marches and protests, yet perhaps because many people were serving different visions, the unity seemed fleeting.

Several veterans suggested that our society would benefit from a mandatory year or two of basic training or community service at age 18. I don’t know how much the psychology of military training contributes to that deep bonding the veterans share, but I suspect the deliberate breaking down of old patterns and habits that basic training involves may be a factor. When people are ‘trained’ out of old patterns into new ones, they end up with shared common goals and earn healing respect for their new skills. A similar sense of connection often exists among young people voluntarily offering a year or two of community service in AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps or similar groups, again perhaps because of being shaken out of familiar patterns and developing common goals.

Planting Joy For The Planet

For most of my life, I’ve followed the Quaker tradition, and consider both praying for peace and being a social justice activist to be forms of service as valuable as anything involving weapons and destruction of life. As a gardener, I find myself praying for planetary peace that includes the planet, the plants and animals, and the habitats they depend on. In one of my favorite books, a post apocalyptic culture has arisen in which people choose to become Sisters To Trees, replanting places destroyed in destructive battles. I fondly imagine myself to be a Sister To Plants, encouraging people with concerns about climate change to become proactive planters.

Quite often people dismiss such ideas as simplistic and ineffectual, yet proactive planting is far from a bromide. Recent research shows that adding as little as a quarter inch of compost to bare earth or poor soil triggers carbon drawdown almost immediately. Every little backyard pollinator patch may be habitat for a surprising number of tiny creatures, each with important roles to play in local ecology. In my little neighborhood of mostly small, elderly mobile homes, pocket hanky sized gardens support hundreds of living creatures, while a bigger, monocultural lawn can’t support much of anything. When tempted to give in to fear and despair, let’s plant pollinator patches, plant trees, spread some compost. Equally important, let’s teach others to do the same things and find joy in them.



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Joyful In The Rain

Kale in its autumn coat

Weary Plants Bounce Back

After such a long drought, it’s been so soothing and peaceful to hear rain falling in the night. Our vintage mobile home has new insulation and a new roof, but even so, that roof isn’t very far away and when it rains hard, the pounding can wake me up. Happily, the softer rain song is the best lullaby I know, calling me into a calm, meditative state of gratitude as I drift into sleep. It’s pretty sweet to listen to birds singing in the rain in the daytime too, and it feels wonderful to go outside and breathe as deeply as possible, filling my smoke-sore lungs with that crisp, fresh autumn air. As I tidy up the sloppiest beds, I clip a little rosemary to simmer in a big pot of water, inhaling the fragrant steam and feeling both my breath and that persistent, low level headache ease. Apparently millions of us have some residual effects from covid, even months later, and I’m again grateful that I’m gradually coming back to my accustomed level of energy and wellbeing. Ok, more or less, but still.

Though national clocks fell back yesterday, the plants in my neighborhood bounced back, looking amazingly refreshed after the hot, dry summer. I wasn’t expecting much in the way of autumn foliage color, given the dryness of the summer, and indeed, the show is not the best ever. Even so, many Japanese maples are blazing, and birches are looking like golden waterfalls. Even my kale is gorgeous, with purple tones awakening in the silvery grey blue leaves. One plant rises against a backdrop of hydrangeas that take on tints of burgundy and rose and purple as they fade, making a marvelously subfusc tapestry (and now I want to knit a sweater in those colors).

Tiger Tiger Burning Bright

Nearby, a clump Euphorbia characias Tasmanian Tiger stands boldly against gilded strands of Pheasant Tail Grass (Anemanthele lessoniana), one of my favorite border grasses. I love the brilliance of its autumn coloring, but I also love the misty scrim of the seed-bearing stems which pour in soft bronze and russet arches and catch every shimmering raindrop after a shower. Some euphorbias age poorly, looking lovely as youngsters but quickly getting woody and ratty with maturity. This Tiger stays bright and trim for years, as long as you trim off the spent bloom stalks. A lovely cousin, Ascot Rainbow, also holds its looks quite well over time, building into quite large plants. Admittedly, it does have a tendency to falter just as you start counting on it to anchor a corner of a vignette, but getting maybe five good years from it is worth the eventual loss.

That Bright Tiger

The Tiger’s name always reminds me of a trip I made years ago, when I was in England visiting gardens and gardeners for a PBS series called Great Gardens Of  The World. It was a truly amazing experience filled with memorable moments, one of which happened when I was staying at Tintinhull House as a guest of Penelope Hobhouse (true story!). One day, Penny (she told me to call her that, serisouly) invited a bunch of garden writers over for tea, including Christopher Lloyd, Fergus Garrett, John Brookes, and quite a few others. While we strolled in the garden, a lively conversation (aka contentious argument) arose concerning Euphorbia characias. Several people from the National Trust felt that plant shouldn’t be there, as it was introduced to English gardens after Phyllis Reiss, the garden creator, had died (at that time, National Trust garden were supposed to remain as close to the way their creators had made them as possible).

The Myth Of  The All Knowing

While the argument raged, I was fascinated to notice that each person pronounced ‘characias’ differently, and none of them acknowledged anyone else’s pronunciation. It was a great moment for me, because back then, so many American gardeners struggled to figure out whether a plant name was Greek or Latin or Aramaic or whatever and how on earth it should be pronounced. We humbly assumed that those erudite Brits knew all about everything horticultural and realizing that they didn’t know how to say the name either was delightful(!). May the gentle rain refresh your spirit and your gardens!

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Queer Bingo & Floral Ofrendas

Sisters Of Perpetual Indulgence (and kindness!)

Shifting Halloween Traditions

On Saturday, the Senior Center held an uproarious, over the top Queer Bingo party as a fundraiser for queer students in arts and humanities and students with learning disabilities. It was organized by the Center’s Queer Elder Family Group, and despite the total lack of alcohol (quite a few folks are in recovery), over 100 people had a fantastic time doing the bingo thing together. The costumes were outstanding and so creative; a huge, tumbling Marie Antoinette wig made of paper was my favorite, though an adorable mushroom was definitely a contender. The good cheer and kindness was truly heartwarming in a time when hearts can use a little extra hug.

Today, my little neighborhood is holding a Halloween costume parade, with treat stations and lots of decorations crammed into one short block. It’s a safe, fun way to get some goodies without the crazy, wild energy of the bigger candy frenzy going on downtown (just a few blocks away). We invite anyone of any age who feels overwhelmed by uproar but still wants to party a little, so there are folks of all ages, including participants from our nearby Special Needs Foundation. We started this during the pandemic shut down and decided to keep it going as a very pleasant, collaborative event.

The Ofrenda Path

On Saturday morning, I took a big bag of greenery, berries and flowers to the Bainbridge Island Art Museum in preparation for the annual ofrenda that’s made inside. To my surprise, I was tasked with creating a wide, floral path with two arms spread wide in an invitational wedge, so people are welcomed inside. I’d asked a friend to bring a bag of leaves and she had collected huge, heart-shaped leaves in vivid autumn colors from her Forest Pansy redbud. She decided to stay and help, so we scoured the little woodland behind the museum and cut sword ferns and huckleberries as well as salal and cedar and lovely gilded oak leaves. A friend brought great swags of redwood cut from a tree fed with her mom’s ashes. Someone dropped off buckets of hydrangeas and a bin of rose petals. The gardeners brought over wispy wands of Gaura and some late lilies.

As we worked, people stopped to ask about it and we invited them to join in. Quite a few folks did, arranging and adding as more offerings were dropped off. The result is beautiful and evocative, and the fact that it is a fleeting, ephemeral creation seems especially fitting for the setting and the event. As the wind stirs the petals and curls the flat leaves, as the flowers fade, the path will change, the bright colors softening into autumnal browns and soft gold. I love making art from natural materials, not least because it so often is a thing of the moment, created to pass away naturally. That’s why this path is so perfect, as in remembering our departed, we have the joy of our memories and we also taste the flavor our own ending.

A mometary creation

Offering Love

As is traditional, the museum’s ofrenda holds candles, water, food and paper banners as well as flowers galore. Many people bring images of dear departed family and friends, as well as special things their special people loved. My grandkids recently lost a very dear young friend, a 14 year old transgender boy who killed himself a few weeks ago. We made candles and paper flowers and a little bowl of rainbow goldfish crackers for him and that seemed to be helpful for the children as well as the adults. A family of musicians played and sang at the opening of the ofrenda, and one young woman told me, “In Mexico, we have the traditional that nobody is really gone as long as they are remembered.”

We remember together

In Mexico, Dia de los Muertos is a kindly, cheerful celebration of lost lives, focusing on appreciation and positive memories. People picnic near the ofrendas and surround pictures of their dead with candles and lanterns, favorite foods, a glass of water, and flowers. There’s joyful music and dancing, story telling and exchanges of memories happy and poignant and sad. Sorrow is not denied a place at the picnic table of memory, but it’s interwoven with strands of gladness for love and lives shared. In contrast, our northern candy holiday feels stripped of tradition (though I gotta say I love the costumes!). My personal Halloween is always tinged by loss—my husband died on Halloween, and so many friends and family have walked on in this season. Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to the loving, vibrant traditions of our southern neighbors, with their acceptance of grief and loss as natural parts of a life fully lived.

Here’s my costume as the Spirit of Autumn



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