I received a huge quantity of quinces a few weeks ago from the Quince Lady (who I wrote about in my cookbook). This was great news because homemade quince paste is one of my most favorite things to eat in the whole wide world. I'm always raving about it to anyone who will listen (proof: my gushing quince segment on NPR's All Things Considered).
After cooking up a new batch of unbelievably good quince paste, I was casting about trying to decide what to do with the remaining quinces. I settled on a tarte tatin, a French fruit tart traditionally made with apples and cooked upside-down in a skillet. After baking, you flip it over to reveal an open-faced pie with the crust on the bottom and glossy, caramelized fruit on top.
These particular ornamental quinces are extremely tart, and require vast amounts of sugar you can't even imagine. Mountains of sugar. So I went ahead and cooked everything down in a cast iron skillet, letting it simmer low and slow until the fruits took on a rosy tint which eventually deepened to the color of black cherries. I even made my own puff pastry for the occasion, laying it on top, tucking in the edges, and baking it until golden-brown with the juices bubbling thickly around the sides.
When it cooled down enough, I flipped it onto a plate. It was beautiful. I took a few pictures and then I cut a small piece from the edge. But the first bite was terrible. It tasted strangely bitter and metallic. I used the same proportions of sugar to fruit as I had for the quince paste, and yet the result was radically different. It should taste good, I insisted, so I kept tasting. And tasting. But it never got any better. Something was wrong. I threw it all in the trash.
I was disappointed and perplexed, but that's how experiments go sometimes. Hours later when I walked into the bathroom, I froze when I saw my reflection. My teeth were blue. You know how sometimes when you're at a party with red wine, you'll notice that some people's teeth and lips are a little purply. It was like that, only five times worse. I dropped whatever I was holding right onto the floor. Without breaking eye contact with my hideous reflection—lips peeled back and frozen into a skeletal grimace—I fumbled around for my toothbrush and toothpaste, praying this wasn't a permanent condition. It wasn't just a couple of teeth, it was ALL of my teeth, top and bottom. It reminded me of the time my sister attempted to dye her dark brown hair blond in junior high and it turned out alien-green, requiring an emergency trip to the hair salon.
Luckily, thanks to the magic of baking soda and/or my frantic brushing, it all came off. Later on, when I was washing the dishes, I noticed that the "pre-seasoned coating" on my newish cast iron pan had corroded away on the bottom and partway up the sides of the pan. Normally, I prefer to season my cast iron with years of bacon fat and love, but I needed that size pan on that particular day and all the store had was one with some kind of shiny coating. I bought it against my better judgment. My hypothesis is that the acidity of the quinces caused the coating to dissolve right off the pan and into my tart. And presumably also into my digestive tract (ain't nothing gonna be sticking in there for a while, I can tell you that).
No wonder it tasted so godawful!
Now I look at that photo of my pie with entirely different eyes. As Husband remarked, it looks kinda creepy. Like it's covered in assorted blood clots and small organs. Husband watches too much Walking Dead, but, nevertheless, that's exactly what it tasted like. Platelets. Vampires, take note.
So, no, I won't be sharing any recipes today. I'll stick to quince paste, thank you very much. If you want a bloody pie, blue teeth, and a non-stick colon for Halloween, you'll just have to go about it some other way.