Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers. While Spyros and I won’t be celebrating today (it’s a work-day here) we are roasting a turkey this weekend and are beyond excited. With that I’d like to leave you with some free dessert:
Please excuse the photo’s poor quality; I wanted to snap the photo and, well, get on to eating. This is a photo of the kerasma, complimentary sweet bites, that a taverna called Amigdaleza (almond tree) served Spyros and me after our lunch there a few weeks ago. From left to right you see homemade orange cake, panna cotta, and walnut cake.
Kerasma means treat in Greek and it’s a dining custom I love…it’s hard not to. Greek restaurants often serve kerasma –sweet wine, slices of cake, or fruit– on the house at the end of a meal. It’s a way of saying ‘thanks for stopping by.’ Kerasma extends well beyond restaurants, too. When a Greek has his or her birthday or name’s day she treats friends, family, and coworkers to chocolates or small cakes. Bars and cafes also offer kerasma—a bowl of chips with your beer, a small cookie with your coffee. As a diner, kerasmata make me feel welcomed and appreciated as though I’m no longer a patron but a guest.
I can’t think of a very good transition from hospitality to seasonality but kerasmata also reflect Greece’s latest-to-ripen produce. In the summer your server might offer triangles of watermelon; in spring, a dish of strawberries. Winter brings syrup-soaked walnut cake and, if you listen for it, quinces stewed in red-wine.
I first tried quinces prepared this way about eight years ago at taverna not far from where we live now. Someone–I can’t remember who–was visiting and Spyros’ parents took the whole family out for a long Sunday lunch. At the end of a meal filled with croquetted, phylloed, and braised delicacies, our waiter brought a round of kerasma: chocolate soufflé, mille feuille, cheesecake and quinces stewed in red wine. I was full and didn’t think I could manage even a bite of dessert, but the quinces looked interesting, deep red and served next to a scoop of ice cream. Since they were nothing but boiled fruit, I reasoned, they might prove a little less filling. I picked up a spoon.
As I pushed the spoon through the scarlet flesh I recognized a grainy texture similar to a canned pear’s. I lifted the spoon to my mouth and tasted clove, cinnamon, pepper, and cranberry—like the filling of a Christmas fruit pie I had never tried.
When quinces came into season this October, I wanted to try stewing them at home. I found a gem of a recipe in Diana Henry’s Food From Plenty where she simmers them with fresh rosemary in red wine. Inspired, last Friday I bought four pounds of quinces and started peeling. If you’ve ever peeled quinces before you know how woody the fruit can be, sort of like peeling a pumpkin with a vegetable peeler. But their citrus scent was clean and festive. As they simmered in red wine, the kitchen smelled like Christmas potpourri.
I served the Garnet Quinces over vanilla ice cream for dessert last Friday night. Again, I tasted the filling of a Christmas pie I couldn’t quite remember…but I didn’t miss a buttery crust, the thick ice cream made a far better one. Diana Henry also recommends serving Garnet Quinces with crème fraiche. I didn’t have it at the time, but can only imagine it would be delicious.
This recipe is so well-rounded that I’ve made few changes. It yields hearty quinces that are spicy, sweet, and sour all at once and the perfect close to a long meal. Kerasma is the act of spreading warmth by treating others and making them feel welcome. It’s what we strive for on Thanksgiving and what I kept in mind as I made Garnet Quinces one more time this afternoon.
Adapted from Diana Henry’s Food From Plenty
400 ml (14 fl) red wine (dry, but nothing fancy)
1 (scant) cup (190 g) granulated sugar
1 strip of lemon zest
1 cinnamon stick
8 black peppercorns, lightly bruised
3 fresh rosemary sprigs
900 grams (2 lbs) quinces, peeled, cored and cut into wedges (I cut my quinces into 8 wedges each)
200 ml hot water
- In a wide saucepan combine the wine through the peppercorns and two of the rosemary sprigs. Heat gradually, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for two minutes.
- Add the quinces and hot water to the saucepan and reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook until the quinces are very soft, about 1 hour, turning every ten minutes or so to ensure even cooking.
- When the quinces have cooked, add the remaining rosemary and remove the pan from the heat. Let the quinces to cool in the pan; their pectin should release and thicken the braising liquid. When cool, serve over ice cream or with crème fraîche. Cover and store in the refrigerator.