Nettle and quince
A blog about bonds of family and friends woven by food memories past, present, and future.
I live a circuitous life, not unlike my grandparents, who all lived in a number of countries throughout their lives, and each spent their last years in a place quite different from where they were born.
I grew up in France and England, and lived in Berlin for a few years as a student. I moved to New York in 1999 for a couple of years, which turned into fourteen. I was an editor for a publisher of illustrated books and have three children. Last summer we all moved to London.
I make it a point of eating something delicious every time I want to feed myself. I eat with the seasons. It’s not so much a political statement as a habit, a matter of taste, and it makes choosing what to make for dinner so much more interesting. I am fairly obsessive about ingredients, so I spend an inordinate amount of time handpicking fruits and vegetables and I try not to set the menu before going shopping. However, it has happened that I found myself scouring multiple stores to find an acceptable potato.
What I love most about cooking is inviting people over for dinner, or brunch, or lunch (how civilized — but we rarely do that). Friends sometimes ask me for the recipe of something they have eaten at our house and I always promise to send it but never do. This blog should remedy that.
Nettles and quinces represent my fondest childhood food memories. They are my (Proustian) madeleine.
Nettles remind me of big family lunches at my grandfather’s country house outside Paris on the weekend — some ten adults and at least as many cousins all seated together at a coveted children’s table where we re-imagined the food on our plates as elaborate culinary experiences. One of my favorite dishes was nettle soup. I have yet to recreate it here in NY — I still can’t bring myself to pay money for weeds at the farmer’s market (in the end I did, and didn’t make soup).
I love quince in all its forms: as jelly, membrillo, stewed, or in crumbles. But nothing epitomizes quince quite like cotignac from Orléans. It’s a very dense quince jelly served in little pots made of pine wood. Eating it is a ritual. A small wooden spoon is broken from the lid of the box to scoop up the delicate paste. My father’s fairy godmother brought cotignac every time she came to visit. And every time I think of cotignac, I remember her pulling up in front of our apartment in her navy blue Renault 4L. Unloading cases of homemade jams and sugar-sprinkled biscuit, earthen jars full of yogurt. Maybe she didn’t bring yogurt. Yogurt reminds me of her house on the banks of the Loire, its old, old kitchen and huge, shallow stone sink.
Food memories to have and to hold, and to pass on.
— Valerie Vago-LaurerAll content © Valerie Vago-Laurer Contact: nettleandquince[at]gmail[dot]com