Wednesday, September 26, 2007
The owl and the pussycat “dined on mince and slices of quince, which they ate with a runcible spoon.” It was my favorite nursery rhyme. Before discovering a quince tree in our backyard, I couldn’t picture the fruit any more than I could define runcible. It turns out Edward Lear made up the word “runcible,” but the fruit defies imagination it is so weird.
My English mother-in-law described the quince as a cross between an apple and a pear. It certainly looks like a fuzzy pear, but it tastes like unsweetened cranberries or rhubarb. But don’t the Brit’s love rhubarb too? Mind you, add enough sugar and cream, and you can eat anything, even quince.
Henry assayed a quince stuffing in roast chicken, hence the unsweetened cranberries simile, and had more success making quince jelly. He then used a spot of quince jelly to prepare a savory gravy for quails. Now that was tasty, only my daughter found the tiny birds too life-like to eat. Qunice, she proclaimed, is either bitter or sour. My dog likes rolling in them. I’m trying to train Stella to collect the fallen fruit before the wasps find them.
My daughter’s watercolor of the quince tree and laundry.
A search on wikipedia showed that the Portuguese word for quince is marmelo and that the word marmalade originally meant quince jam. Apparently quinces need a more southern climate than England to ripen.
My claim is there is only one season in England: wet and 40 to upper 60’s. It doesn’t rain all day, but it sprinkles like a greenhouse mister. If it does get cold enough for snow, the whole country grinds to a halt. The sun shines in the 80’s, and it’s a heat wave /drought. Having lived about two years in England over the past couple of decades, I have never seen before the three pleasantly warm and sunny weeks we have just enjoyed. Needless to say, as soon as I blogged about that last week, it started raining.
After Monday morning’s monsoon, we bought a dryer. It was more green to have a clothesline, as in the moldy green color of our underwear. My son had to wear dirty sports kit to cross-country practice. Even on a dry day, our clothes were taking two days to stiffen into cardboard. “I hate crusty socks,” my daughter sighed. Hard water doesn’t help.
One trick to doing laundry in England is the airing cupboard. These are wooden slats built above the water heater to dry line-damp clothing. Unfortunately our house has the nation’s smallest airing cupboard. My dog keeps wagging over our supplemental drying rack and picking socks like berries.
On the weekend we went on a blackberry-picking hike. Three and a half pounds later we are now planning on a quince and blackberry crumble. The berries at least are unbelievably sweet, unlike their American counterparts.
We passed sheep and cows, then circled back along the Thames.
Stella appreciated the dog doors at the fences.
We also drove twenty minutes to Woodstock to visit Blenheim Palace where Winston Churchill was born. Churchill gave up his noble title so that he could become prime minister. During World War II, Hitler did not bomb Blenheim because he planned to rule his empire from that seat.
The palace facade was very grand, but the small rooms inside were dark and dreary despite all the gold leaf. The library was a treat with big windows and more leather bound volumes than I’ve ever seen in one place. The vast estate covers 2,700 acres, and the Capability Brown gardens were pleasant. We only got sprinkled on once.
After Maine, I find it a bit freaky how the countryside is completely cultivated. There are no wild woods only hedgerows. On the plus side, there is little suburban sprawl and farming is doing well. I especially appreciate the rights of way allowing the public to traverse private estates and farms. Dogs are welcome almost everywhere, even on the bus and in pubs. They are tolerated more than children.
A typical mistake Americans make is assuming that England will be similar due to the common language. Culturally there is a sizable gap that is a reflection of the landscape. English society is well cultivated and seeped in tradition and culture, but it lacks the wild exuberance of the USA. I don’t think one is necessarily better than the other, but it’s quite different. Leaving one’s home is the best way to get perspective and appreciate what you have and acknowledge what you are missing.
I never feel more American than when I’m living abroad, but until I open my mouth, no one knows. People are always asking me for directions, no matter where I am. I think that’s the New Yorker in me: always walking someplace briskly and acting like I know where I’m going.
I find my way as I go along. The trick is being observant and exploring detours. It’s quite like writing a novel. The journey is all part of the adventure.