Last week posed the seasonal crisis of the unripe pears. A still life of Anjou beauty on the outside, the interior however, refused to budge. Swaddled in brown paper bags, I piped in the opening bars of A Little Night Music’s Send in the Clowns. They continued to dig in their little pear heels, defying me to ripen. With a stack of pie shells cool and aloof in the freezer and a container of almond oatmeal crumble with a mismatched lid in the fridge, I was taking up valuable bakery real estate. (There is always constant conversation and raised eyebrows about the lack of room for the CAKES. Good thing this pie baker has a thick skin.) As the days rolled on, it was abundantly clear, a watched pear doesn’t ripen. Feeling like the coach of the Varsity Pear team in the midst of a seasonal slump, there was no other choice but to forge ahead. I coaxed, I cajoled, I threatened. “C’mon! You can do this! Fear not the brown sugar and vanilla bean; look that ginger and lemon zest straight in the eye. Do I have to bring in the cardamom? Are you pears or wax fruit??!! For goodness sakes, give me a little something!” The resulting pies tasted ever so slightly of pear, more along the lines of cucumber. Isn’t it rich?
This is a new week and to kick things off, Mr. UPS arrived with a very special package from Hudson, New York. Marianne and the folks at The Hudson Standard know how to craft bitters and shrubs of amazing clarity and flavor. Using local ingredients from New York’s Hudson Valley, their concentrated shrubs and distinctive bitters are incredibly versatile. I had the good fortune of meeting Marianne at the LongHouse Food Revival in September. When I scanned the list of ingredients in the Pear Ginger Honey Shrub and then tasted it, it was clearly pear pie destiny.
Admittedly, I was concerned about securing ripe fruit following last week’s Anjou debacle. I have also been on a bit of a quince quest. The more elusive a pie ingredient is, the more I crave it. Pears and quinces play beautifully together in a pie plate. The trick was to secure the quince. Neither Whole Foods nor the local farmers market carried them. I was beginning to lose patience, bemoaning my quince-less state to my family. My mother suggested my quince passion was genetic. Her mother, my grandmother Dorothy was a lover of quince. Great gene pool. I decided to ask a few other folks how they felt about quince.
NMMNP: Are you on the bus? Can you hear me? How do you feel about quince?
BAKER SIBLING IN SEATTLE: (disembarking from the commuter bus) The Queen? How do I feel about the Queen?
NMMNP: No, not the Queen. Quince. The fruit.
BSIS: Now I can hear you. Yes. Quince. It grows out here. There are quince trees, somewhere out here. But I don’t see any at the moment.
(I then asked Young Scholar who upon graduation, we now call Master/Master.)
NMMNP: What do you know about quince?
MM: Quince? Never heard of it.
NMMNP: Of course you have. It’s an incredibly fabulous fruit. You are living in the thick of quinceness.
MM: I live in Boston.
NMMNP: You have heard of Quincy Market, haven’t you?
MM: The market, yes. The fruit? Nooo… Wait. Is this your way of asking me to go to Quincy Market searching for quince? Because my initial reaction is that you should approach this the way I approached Boston Cream Pie. Ask an old…
NMMNP: I already asked Rommy, and yes, there’s a genetic connection. How can it be you have never heard of it?!
(Mildly interested, but not terribly so, Mr. Sweet As Pie chimes in.)
MSAP: I don’t believe the two are connected, the market and the fruit.
BLONDILOCKS: Hang on, quince? Is that more or less than a pence?
NMMNP: Not quid. Quince. It’s an autumnal fruit with the most incredible fragrance.
BLONDI: Oh. I thought you meant the currency.
NMMNP: This is important. Last week, I had a terrible time with pears. This is a new week, a new pie. And I can’t find any quinces.
BLONDI: So if you track down the quince, is it quince, or quinces?
NMMNP: It’s like fish…
MM: They taste like fish?
MM: I still don’t understand what you plan to do with the quince. Quinces.
NMMNP: I am going to pair them with pears and the pear-honey-ginger shrub that just arrived from Hudson, N.Y.
MSAP: Quince. Quinces. Right. You may want to put gas in the car first.
(Pause. It is critical for a baker to surround herself with a Practical Person. It is suggested to me that unless my quince foraging is to be on foot, there needs to be a fuel stop along the way. I know this, but I have a tendency to get caught up in the moment and overlook things like the gas gauge hovering on ‘E.’)
MM: Where does the shrub enter into things?
NMMNP: The pear honey ginger shrub is true pie crust kismet.
MM: Is it? Or is the shrub part of a cocktail? Does the taste of the quince improve after you mix the shrub with, say, some Bourbon?
NMMNP: First of all Master/Master, what they obviously did not teach you in graduate school, is that both apple cider vinegar and vodka (separately, not together) are ideal additions to pie crust. The shrub is made up of apple cider vinegar, pears, honey and ginger. This makes it ideal for both crust and filling. As for the quinces, you poach them in all sorts of warm spices, honey simple syrup and a good bit of lemon, then you combine them with pears, or pears and apples. I’m also thinking of using some sharp cheddar or nutty gruyère in the crust…
BLONDI: Whoa. You’ve got an awful lot going on there. Just saying.
NMMNP: No- all of the components will compliment each other. The end result will be a pie that tastes like the most fragrant and delicious apple slash pear slash rose…
BLONDI: This is beginning to sound like an Equity pie gig. Actor slash dancer slash singer, Quincey Rose Lee!
MM: I have to get ready for work…
NMMNP: Wait! What about Quincy Market?
BLONDI: You know, I once played the role of Peter Quince at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia…
MSAP: Quincy Market was named for Mayor Josiah Quincy. Nothing to do with your elusive quince. Sorry.
BLONDI: Gentles, perchance you wonder at this show…
NMMNP: So where does this leave us?
BLONDI: But wonder on till truth makes all things plain
MM: Probably listening to a Shakespearean monologue… or a number from Gypsy. I hope you’re not making quince pie for Thanksgiving.
BLONDI: This man, is Pyramus, if you should know This beauteous lady, Thisbe is certain
NMMNP: Well, now I don’t know. Maybe there won’t be any pie for Thanksgiving…
MM: As long as there’s Wild Nut pie, we’re good.
BLONDI: She’s sulking. I can hear it in her silence.
MM: Yup. Okay then. See you Thanksgiving eve. Good luck with everything.
MSAP: I’m going to put gas in the car.
BLONDI: This man, with the lime and rough-cast doth present
Wall, that vile wall, which did these lovers sunder
And through the wall’s chinks, poor souls, they are content
To whisper, at the which let no man wonder.
This is what happens. I try to engage them, include them, and all they care about is what they care about. Which is neither quince nor pear. I am prepared to sulk for quite some time, tracking down the wayward quinces on my own. And while I’m at it, I will enjoy my sulk with some shrub. Over ice, with a few fingers of whatever The Hudson Standard recommends.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm