There is a candle dynasty around here, and its main headquarters is about an hour away in the Pioneer Valley. The sign, outstandingly visible from the highway, claims the location as "the scenter of the universe." I drove by the place on my way to a wedding this past summer; it was a gorgeous summer saturday that one would imagine would involve lots of outdoor idyllic swimming and hiking and lazy grilling, but the endless span of parking lot around the candle factory was filled to the brim. I haven't been inside the scenter of the universe, but I have had the opportunity to smell its many smaller branches scattered throughout surrounding counties, and although the combined smell of "frosty air," "maple pancakes,"and "almond cookie" does create quite a sensory extravaganza, I marveled at the draw of Yankee Candle. At the time, I put it aside and sped on to my summer wedding, but the scented candle mystery continued to linger.
I have a memory for peculiar details, and just this week an entire smell experience popped into my mind. It must have been three years ago, and I was at a play date with Rosie. We walked in and stomped the snow off our boots as the mom rushed around the kitchen. She was in the middle of too many projects, she confessed, and she hadn't gotten a chance to finish the breakfast dishes because a work call had just come in. "I was going to make muffins, but I didn't get to it." I remember that much, and I probably laughed with some comment about how she should have seen my kitchen right then and what a mess it all was. But here's the moment that I remember most--she whipped out a candle in a jar, lit the wick, and set it on the counter. "That's better," she said, and although I already had a bit of a prejudice against the candle company in question, it was. The scent of pumpkin pie or some other thing wafted through the air and the house just felt warmer.
Now, I'd go so far as to say that I'd have to search deep in the corners of my world to find a traditional housewife. Honestly, I don't even quite know what that means these days. Working in the home or out of it, all the homemakers (male and female) that I know are balancing far too many hats to seem reminiscent of that image of the wife in the home. But I'd also say that domesticity is stronger than ever, that the skill and art of housewifery is alive and well--it's just that the way that it manifests evolves in its own way in every home and through every family. My sense is that times can change all they want, but that the power of a good smelling kitchen spans through all time.
If I had my way, I'd roast quinces in my oven all fall and winter. I'd roast so many quinces that the smell would stick to me as I made my way through the world, and that would be my mysterious and exotic scent that brought back memories to people that they didn't even know they had.
That's what a roasting quince does.
Unfortunately, quinces are not so easy to come by. I have a friend who has a pretty study supply through the fall, and I swear the next tree I plant around here will be a quince. But when you can find them? Roast them. Sit in your kitchen with your eyes closed and live through your nose for a little while.
Maybe Yankee Candle makes a roasted quince votive? Somehow I'm not sure that it could be captured by anything other than a roasting quince, but I challenge them to try.
I made this bread two days ago, and my kitchen still smells good. I was in love with the bread and now it's gone and I'm thinking about finding more quinces. It's a cake, but I served it with roast chicken and that turned out to be a very good idea. As the night wore on it was also exceptional with cream cheese, and with butter, and in the morning with coffee when the new day had begun. I've just had the last piece now, you know, so I could have it fresh in my mind when I was trying to get you to make it. It was even better today than it was yesterday. And better then than the first day. It's a moist and substantial cake that you could wrap in parchment and give as a gift. And if quinces are scarce, make it with pears. It will smell different, but still lovely.
This bread takes forever to bake. The recipe that I was working from told me this, and I didn't believe it, but I'll tell you know it takes forever to bake. That's not including baking the quinces, either.
But it's worth it. Really really worth it.
Quince Rosemary Polenta Bread
adapted from ReadyMade, October November 2010
makes one loaf
3 medium to large quinces
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup polenta
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup canola oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon lemon zest
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Rinse the pubescence off the quinces if it's still on them. Set them in a baking dish and roast, uncovered for 45 minutes. Let cool enough so that you can handle them, peel, core, and cut two of the quinces into bite sized pieces. Peel the third and cut into longer slices.
Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Spray a loaf pan with cooking spray.
Whisk together the flour, polenta, baking soda, and salt.
Combine the sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on high speed until smooth and yellow, about a minute. Lower the speed on the mixer and and add dry ingredients to batter. Mix until just incorporated. Using a spatula, fold in the rosemary, lemon zest, and smaller quince pieces. Pour batter into the prepared pan and arrange the larger quince pieces on top. Bake for 1 hour and 40 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool in the pan for at least 20 minutes, then remove from pan to cool completely.