The Holywell Community now has a venerable tradition (of two whole years standing!) of making quince jelly from the tree in the Abbot’s Garden next to the Priory.
Our usual approach to cooking is not very labour intensive. We are spoilt by (usually somewhat pre-prepared) ingredients from the local supermarket. So taking something grown on site and doing something with it is a good change of pace for us and perhaps brings us more in line with our monastic forebears.
Unlike our monastic forebears, or indeed, many families, we don’t have a recipe which goes back generations. We’ve taken the recipe from BBC Good Food.
The first step is picking the quince. It’s not the prettiest fruit. But it has its own charm!
We then hack the fruit into smaller pieces in order to boil it more effectively. It starts of very hard and so needs to soften over a few hours in the pot. Br Nicholas decided to ignore the advice not to try to eat it at this point! As he will tell you, it’s pretty disgusting at this point of the process.
We then need to get the juice out of the fruit. This is the strangest part of the process. The fruit is put into a clean pillowslip and then hung up. We used some string and a musical keyboard stand along with some additional straps to give the quince a bit of a squeeze. This whole set up is covered and then left overnight to drip down into a bowl.
Once the juice is out, we add the sugar. This batch required 2.5kg’s of sugar! A touch of lemon juice is added (we ignored the geranium leaves required by the recipe). We then boil it until it reaches the setting point.
At the same time it’s boiling we also boil the jars that we will be using in order to sterilise them. The sugar and fruit juice combination is almost perfect food for moulds, bacteria, and yeasts. So it’s very important to insure there’s nothing in the jars to feast on the jams.
After pouring the jam into the jars, we leave it to set overnight. There’s some anxiety about whether it will really set, but the next morning: there it was. Set as well as it needs to be! It’ll be ready to taste in another week or so.
It’s a bit runnier this year than last year and it’s a significantly darker red. It’s also a bigger batch. Each year is different and that’s OK. You don’t get supermarket uniformity from home-grown fruit and you don’t get it from a pillowslip full of boiled quince hung from a keyboard stand!
You don’t get off without a little theological reflection, I’m afraid. I’ve been thinking about different ways we imagine the ‘restoration of all things’ (Acts 3:21). If you imagine yourself fully restored, are you a supermarket-perfect specimen? Do you think we would we all look the same, like row-after-row of perfectly round and red apples? That’s one way to imagine how things we would be if they were made perfect: a kind of uniformity where all the things that distinguish us are shaved off.
This perfection-as-uniformity idea seems pretty unpleasant. But it is an idea of perfection that is operating in our culture. There is another idea though: where the flourishing of each individual thing allows it to maintain its own distinctives without conflicting with the things around it. This is perfection as harmonious difference.
One of my favourite philosophers says the following when reflecting on the kind of growth that is caused by love: “The movement of love is circular, at one and the same impulse projecting creations into independency and drawing them into harmony.” This seems like an appealing way of characterising God’s creative action in the world. It’s also a relief to know that this year’s quince jelly doesn’t have to be exactly like last year’s!