A Bowl of Quinces, A Feast of Gratitude

A Bowl of Quinces, A Feast of Gratitude

They look something like small, golden apples with a whisper-thin coat of fuzz. On the table by the windows, the bowl of homely little fruits is so fragrant that I can smell their perfume three feet away where I sit with my morning tea.

At Thanksgiving dinner, they were placed attractively on weathered sycamore leaves arranged down the center of our friends’ dining table, a hand-gathered decoration that warmed my heart with its rustic, natural beauty. I have long adored quince, an unsung fruit in America, and throughout our feast, I reached out repeatedly to pick up the one closest to me and lift it to my nose, inhaling deeply. Smiling. Its sweet fragrance catapulted me back to our years living in Europe, the sure arrival of autumn on our doorstep.

They are ancient, these fruits, predating apples and pears, both. Native to Iran and Armenia, the quince came to Europe via Greece and Turkey, and was popular with the Romans. For the dinner guests who didn’t know what they were, I shared a bit about their culinary uses and how to prepare them. (They are essentially inedible raw, which is probably why they have never become popular on this side of the Atlantic, remaining simply a cook’s fruit.) Quince forms the base of the Spanish jam/paste membrillo, often served alongside ewes’ milk Manchego (though it is ambrosia with any sharp cheese, I think).

A humble, fragrant celebration.
A humble, fragrant celebration.

After the meal, our host’s cousin, the woman who had brought them from her tree, invited me to take the quinces home, well knowing that I was probably the only person at the table who would actually use and enjoy them. No need to ask me twice. I gathered up a small sackful and delightedly stashed them in my burlap grocery bag.

“Place them in a bowl,” she instructed me, “and they will fragrance the room.”

“That’s exactly what I’m going to do with them,” I smiled. “And then eventually I’ll poach or bake them into something delicious.”

For me, their flower-like scent is a herald of winter, and I know they keep for weeks, sharing their perfume. When the golden skin finally mottles and turns somewhat less than pretty for a display, I cook them with a bit of sugar. Poached, their flesh turns a glorious crimson reminiscent of the tree’s delicate magenta blossoms, and they taste vaguely like honey and rose. I have baked and poached them, both. 

Returning home from the Thanksgiving feast, I placed the small golden globes into a white French provincial bowl and then set it upon the dining table by the windows. This morning, seated with my ritual pot of tea in the early hours of quiet, my beloved still asleep and the dogs gone back to bed under the blanket, as I listened to the rumbling of the furnace and my fountain pen scratched softly while it trailed across the pages of a notebook, the homely little quinces, three feet away, captivated me with sweet perfume. Like the night previous, I reached out and took one in hand, feeling its hardness, the fuzzy down of its skin, and placed it under my nose for a good whiff and a smile. A morning hit of aromatherapy.

I have written previously of scent and its well-known power to transport us instantly to other places and times, the ability to entirely shift our mood and affect. Now, these diminutive versions of the larger, pear-like quince I adore, have launched me back to various houses in England and Spain on our wandering journey. In a flash I am once again giddily gathering them up at a market in autumn, piling them in a handmade bowl on the kitchen counter, and eventually cooking them in one manner or another.

An unexpected and welcome gift, this.

There is so much to be grateful for in life. I certainly felt steeped in blessings on Thursday, seated beside my mate at a beautiful table of feasting and revelry on the central California coast. Often I have lamented that it seems severely misguided that we set aside but one calendar day a year for giving thanks, when really we ought to live with such ongoing spirit of appreciation.

quince blossom and honeybee
quince blossom and honeybee

We all have our private sorrows, struggles, and disappointments, yet uncountable blessings abound. Everyday. Even when I feel troubled, I know my burdens are few and mostly insignificant. All I have to do is look a bit further than my own walls, or consider the untold millions of people in the world who are truly suffering, and the picture is reframed. A simple twist of the myopic lens, or a flip through the pages of my little gratitude journal, refocuses life. 

How often I write of stepping outdoors, my bare feet upon the cold earth and laying my hands upon the roughly furrowed grey bark of the the Grandmother, the great Monterey cypress standing watch over this little cottage, offering prayers and appreciation. I have learned firsthand that gratitude is perhaps the simplest yet most profound spiritual/soulful practice we can have. (Click the title to read a 2014 SAJ post, “Gratitude Practice: A Little Journal of Blessings“)

Some blessings are easy to recognize—health, family, friends, shelter, good food, functional limbs and mind, love, etc.—yet the majority of others are deceptively simple, so seemingly humble and everyday, that we tend to overlook and discount them. As if the little purple flower by the gate, aglow in a ray of warm sunshine, isn’t an everyday miracle in itself worthy of praise and appreciation.

How easily we are swept up in the meaningless details, drama, and distractions of everyday life. In our modern world where the importance of the soul is largely ignored, a certain degree of discipline and dedication is required to live a conscious life—yet even then we have to make room for the sacred.

Ultimately, of course, the daily and sacred are inseparable.

The picturesque allure of these gnarly little golden orbs in a white French bowl on the table—a painting in its own right—is a simple song of beauty. Abundance. I might casually take it for granted, except that their sweet scent has seduced me, tipping me headlong into a warm stream of memory and gratitude for life. How deeply I appreciate the sensual grace of being alive and the ongoing journey, along with serendipitous moments—those seemingly million-to-one chance occurrences—repeatedly reminding me that a much larger story is unfolding.

quince interior

I remain ever grateful for the bounty of earth and nature that sustains us. A hundred blessings to the unknown tree that bore these humble, fragrant jewels, and the gentle hands that picked, carried, and shared them. 

The soul of humanity rests in celebration—of beauty, mystery, wonder, and awe. It’s one of the primary experiences that gives meaning to our lives and nourishes the soul. Yet celebrating can be something other than a festive table laden with an abundance of food and the bright cheer of friendship; equally it may be the quiet appreciation of ordinary beauty, anywhere, amid the endlessly passing minutes of the day.

In a real sense, the heart of this weekly journal rests with recognizing those simple, human, everyday moments—’a life for the senses’—and celebrating them as nourishment for the soul. This morning, gazing out the front windows of my cottage, a fragrant bowl of modest, golden fruit has transported me to green fields of gratitude, my heart unlocked by a wordless poem. 

Friend, I wonder, what ordinary things might you pause for today, taking time to recognize and be grateful for? My hope is that because they are everywhere in myriad guises, you lose count of your blessings and instead simply find yourself drifting on a gentle river of appreciation … and celebration.

Blessed be.