They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.
The Owl and the Pussycat, Edward Lear
When I was eight years old, my dad got married in the Brisbane City Botanic Gardens. My sister and I spent the morning of the wedding with our stepmother, having our hair curled and swishing around in our beautiful dresses. But I was nervous. For weeks we had been rehearsing The Owl and the Pussycat, which we were to recite in unison during the service. I couldn't get it out of my head that we'd forget the words midway through and ruin the wedding. Luckily, we didn't stumble. In fact, I can still remember it, word for word, twenty years on. I have recited poems at other family weddings since then; three years later, I read one at my mum's wedding (I was so nervous that I ended up fighting off a giggling fit in the middle), and a Shakespearean sonnet formed part of my Maid of Honour speech at my sister's reception two years ago.
I love weddings. The food, the dancing, the speeches, the instant friendships formed with other guests. I've been to a couple of brilliant ones this year; I'm now at the age where all those friends I spent my early twenties dancing and drinking with are standing up in front of us all and committing to a life with each other. In the summer, I catered a wedding for two of my close friends, and their 200+ guests. We recently caught up over dinner: some of the lamb we didn't have on the day, and this dessert, to make up for the fact that the groom missed out on the pavlova on the wedding day!
Despite my early wedding experiences, and the more recent ones, I haven't grown up with a strong vision of my own 'big day'. Sailing away for a year and a day and getting married in the company of a collection of strange animals would be ideal, to be honest. So long as I get to have this for dessert - chewy meringues with a crisp shell, softly whipped cream and heavily spiced slices of quince.
Quince, Meringue and Cream
4 egg whites
100g dark brown sugar
80g caster sugar
3 large quinces
90g caster sugar
3 star anise
2 sticks cinnamon
400ml double cream
Mixer or stainless steel bowl and electric whisk
1. Start the meringue the night before you'd like to serve the dessert. Preheat your oven to 120C and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Slice the lemon in half and run it around the inside of a spotlessly clean mixer or bowl.
2. Pour the four egg whites into the bowl and whisk on a medium speed until they form soft peaks. Mix the two sugars together, then lower the speed slightly and add tablespoons full of sugar every few seconds until it is all incorporated. Whisk until the meringue forms stiff, glossy peaks.
3. Spoon large dollops of the meringue onto the baking paper, spacing them a couple of centimetres apart. Make an indent in the centre of each one. Place in the oven for two hours, then turn the oven off, open the door slightly and go to bed. In the morning, your meringues will be ready. When you wake up, peel them off the baking paper, and store them somewhere cool and dry.
4. If you've never cooked with quinces before, you should be aware that they are a little difficult to peel and chop. They're much firmer than apples or pears and require a good, sharp knife. Don't worry - they're brilliant once you get into them. Prepare a bowl of cold water, and squeeze the lemon into it. Peel the quinces, slice them in half and scoop out the core. Put the quinces into the water to prevent them going brown.
5. Place the sugar and water into the saucepan and stir until dissolved. Add the star anise, and bring to a gentle simmer. Add the quince halves, and simmer for fifteen minutes.
6. Heat the oven to 180C. Transfer the poached quince slices to the greaseproof paper lined roasting dish. Add the honey to the quince syrup and reduce the liquid by a third. Spoon the syrup over the quinces, and place the roasting dish into the oven. Roast the quinces for 40 minutes, until they are blushing pink.
7. Whisk the cream by hand, or you risk over-whipping it. Once it has reached soft peaks, spoon it onto the meringues, and top with half a quince and some quince syrup. Eat with a runcible spoon*.
* Please note that no one, including Edward Lear, seems to know what one is.