We are chatting with Kata and I tell her that I got some quince from a friend.
‘And what are you going to do with that?’, she asks.
“Quince paste… Imagine, it supposed to be quite an exacting process!’, I answer with full enthusiasm as if I am talked about an unexpected lottery win.
Kata starts laughing. ‘You are the only person I know who can get so excited about a labour-intensive process in the kitchen. So do you love quince paste so much?’
‘Well… actually I think I don’t really like it…’ I continue in a dreamy tone, ‘ but I think with Virág’s goat cheese, my sour bread and some walnuts and grapes it will be delicious!’
So this is me. I get started peeling quinces and soon quince paste is drying on the shelf and I feel happy. Thanks to the sunny, warm autumn days the so called ‘scone’ apples turned red within a week. I am delighted by the contrast between red and green in the morning, at noon and at sunset and I still cannot believe the amount of apples this old tree has produced this year. At the weekend it gets a crutch as a present in order to help it to ‘carry’ this huge weight until harvest.
We still have some Golden Delicious apples which I try to use up until scone apples are ripe enough. After cooking apple jam, and baking several apple cakes the next step is apple compote. For me the jars of compotes on the pantry shelves have a special charm. My mother used to make peach and pear compote which we ate during the complete winter. We didn’t like pear so much so those jars remained as last until spring finally arrived.
Sometimes I am thinking about how far I got, since I left my former life, which was completely the opposite of the one I am living right now.
Several years ago I lived in Budapest and had a really fancy job at a prestigious multinational company. I started working while still studying at college and since I was always a hard worker, I was climbing up the corporate ladder quite quickly which was for me an indication of a successful life at that time. I had everything to be satisfied with myself and my life but I wasn’t. Instead, I was drowning. Figuratively, but sometimes my symptoms got so strong that I needed to ask my colleagues to open windows at the office because I was sure we didn’t have any fresh air at all.
There were no after-work evenings, weekends, getaways, holidays, only work. I could have felt I had achieved something in life, but the only thing I really wanted was cooking, which seemed a really bizarre idea, at least for a certain time. I started and finished my day with cookbooks. Every day my heart broke because I had to leave my tiny kitchen garden where I grew – beside the usual herbs- all kinds of fruits and vegetables: courgette, eggplant, pepper, tomato, pattypan squash, strawberries and raspberries. (One year I almost had watermelon, but I pulled up suspecting it is a weed, then I saw the little melon rolling…)
During the week I was dreaming about long weekend cookings, then on Friday I was so worn-out that the only thing I was able to do was staring at the television then falling asleep while sitting.
I was 25 years old at that time, totally burned out and lost. We organised pre-Christmas gathering with colleague friends where everybody was talking about recent joyful life events and I could only whisper to them: ‘Girls, I have the impression that my life rushes by me and I miss it…’
Then, an illness quickly and radically changed everything and there was no way back. I announced I am quitting my job and walked out the door. At that point I didn’t care about anything, not even the fact I was jumping into the unknown and uncertain without any plans. I was only sure about one thing: I want to recover and live a life without taking medicines every day as doctors predicted and suggested.
I started cooking. I was travelling, I tasted and enjoyed the world outside the office and I realised that life is so much more than I thought. I was already certain that a prestigious job, a tempting salary is not worth a penny if I cannot watch sunrise or sunset any time I want, if I cannot have a dog/cat including with all its sweet obligations and things I really feel called for go always get postponed.
One year later I was declared healthy by astonished doctors.
Ten years passed by since then, my life took different turns, but I was sure about one thing: I never again want to be the girl, who was sitting on that chair devastated by her rushing life. Slowly and surely I found more time for cooking and finally it haven’t only become my vocation but my way of life.
So you may ask, why I spend so much time making quince paste of apple compote and trying to present them in the most beautiful way possible? Because this is my life. I am looking for miracles and for me, this is it.
I didn’t find any apple compote recipe in old books, so I got suspicious that maybe it has a reason. My friend, Mária encouraged me to make it anyway by using the recipe of pear compote. We took a look at different versions in several old cookbooks she has and for first I decided to try the one which uses a thicker sugar syrup. A few jars are already on the shelf but I was a bit worried it will be too sweet. So as a second attempt I was following the recipe of pear compote by Ilona Horváth, a traditional Hungarian cookbook but I spiced it up a little bit. The idea of adding red pepper comes from Erzsi, Áron’s mother- thanks to her for that!- which gives a wonderful flavour to any kind of compote.
ca. 1 kg apples
1000 ml water
300 g sugar
juice of a lemon
1 cinnamon stick
Bring sugar, water to boil with the cinnamon and a few cloves. Add lemon juice and reduce heat. I chose nice-looking apples so I didn’t need to peel them. Cut the apples into half, core them and cut each half into 4-6, depending on size. Drop the apples into the hot syrup for a minute, remove them with a strainer and arrange them in a clean jar. Try to fit as much apple as you can, and drop some cloves and red peppers into each jar. Pour over the hot syrup, close each jar and place them into a pot, Fill up the pot with warm water until it reaches 3/4 of the jars. Cover and cook for 15 minutes after boiling. Let them cool down in the water.