Figs of Steel: 24 Hours in La Mancha 12

“Ignore him. He just doesn’t like organic food.”

      Laura was right. I didn’t. If only out of loyalty to my 1970s childhood diet of Fruit Loops, whole milk laced with Nestle’s Quik, yodels, double stuff Oreos, Twinkies, Swanson’s TV dinners, cube steak (whatever the hell that was), Rice-a-Roni, Hamburger Helper, frozen vegetables, concentrated fruit of all kinds, MSG-laced everything, and many, many more delicacies of the day. These were the building blocks of our youthful organisms. My generation was nourished on this regime and survived to tell the story. The fact that we aren’t collectively residing in the municipal cemetery is a testament to the strength and malleability of human bodies. We are a marvel to the medical world. And yet, nowadays, the mere mention of a “Pop Tart” can get you removed from anyone’s premises for promoting drug abuse.

          “I think it’s great,” I lied. “Not as much as you. Laura’s so organic she was born in a peapod. But that’s not what I’m saying. I just can’t stand the prices you pay. 5 euros for 250 gram package of chickpea pasta. That doesn’t even sound appetizing. Plus, it’s a chickpea for the love of God. Where does my money go? Not pesticide, that’s for sure.”

          “It’s the future, whether you like it or not,” said Fernando. “So accept it and enjoy.”

          “Legalized larceny is the future? I’m glad I’m over the hill. But just so you know, I’ll try, but I’m making no promises.”

          I focused my attention on reviewing the state of the fruit trees, especially the quince, because a person like me doesn’t often get the chance to regard one for any extended time every day. If you’ve just scratched your head and said to yourself, “What the hell is a ‘quince’?” by no means should you feel alone in your ignorance. It’s not you. It’s the fruit and the fruit’s status. In Spanish, the tree is called “membrillo” and the fruit it bears goes by the same name. I know I had never heard of a quince tree until I got to this country, and up until then I had gone about my life just as happily. It is not very common in Western Europe or America. Most of the fruit is produced in the Middle East, the middle Asian countries and China. But if someone has to carry their weight for Europe, it’s Spain. It leads the pack in the EU, and is tenth in overall world production.

          The quince actually belongs to the rose family and is a distant relative of some of this planet’s most recognizable deciduous produce: apples, peaches, apricots, pears, plums, cherries, strawberries, to name just a few. There is little dainty or delicate about the quince fruit though. You’d think it was Nature’s attempt to grow bowling balls. Collecting it can be a hazardous procedure, too, as it has a nasty habit of detaching itself from the limb and crashing onto the head of anyone who happens to be foolish enough to be loitering underneath. I was one of those unlucky souls one day, and had to be carried unconscious by Laura and three others to safety. I try to play this compromising episode down at dinner parties and other social gatherings.

          It is generally so hard and acidic that you’d probably have to be subjected to a prolonged siege before resorting to eating it raw. If you insist on ingesting it, for the love of god don’t take a bite out of it. First, try boiling it slowly in water and lemon, sweetening it in heaps of sugar then mashing it and molding it into a square brick of granular jelly. Then give it a go. By then, you’ve come up with something more than just palatable, it’s downright delicious. It is known as “dulce de membrillo”. People generally pair it with soft cheese and eat it as a dessert. 

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