If you take a good look, you will find that the majority of the posts on this blog are around memories. Mostly memories about food. Yet, from the moment Manisha announced her IFR: Memories I seem to have been at a loss for words! Her deadline, extended, is looming and I can feel the pressure as she churns out post after daily post on IFR.
Many of my vivid memories are around food, which must be true for a lot of you. Despite nostalgia rendering most things pink, resurrecting food of our memories usually turns out well. Unless you are attempting to recreate your mother’s cooking. That one is hard to get spot on. Few can rival a mother’s prowess. Hopefully, our children will look at our cooking the same way, and we will have our spot in the limelight.
This summer, for example, before setting off for college faraway, the son finally awarded me a 10-on-10 for my rogan josh. He also added that not only had I cooked a swell rogan josh, I now had my own secret ingredient for it! Which was true – I had tweaked my mother’s recipe a tad – I added a teeny weeny bit of ground mace. What was I to do – after trying in vain to match her rogan josh for ten years, I rebelled and made it better :). Well, not really. By that time I had likely put in my time – the minimum requisite to get certification – behind cooking rogan josh to have finally got the art down. Yes, recipes evolve…in an effort to better your mom’s cooking when you can’t make it just like her’s. I bet my son’s food memories are starting to stack up.
To say that Kashmiris obsess about food is to put it mildly. I am true to my community type. Growing up, I spent many a summer visiting our extended family in Srinagar. It is truly wonderful that we used to get to eat so many great meals, all home-cooked, at the homes of so many of my aunts and uncles. Except for my Nani’s house, everywhere else I was happy to stay for an extended period. There was no plan ever. You just decided to visit a relative and went. No one, including ourselves, knew how long we were planning to stay.
The morning breakfast was always tchot, a naan-like roti available baked fresh every morning at the kandurwan (naanwai – baker) at the street corner. As the lady of the house put some kahva on, a young cousin would run out to buy fresh tchot that was served, still warm, sometimes lathered with Amul butter, with the hot spicy kahva. This is one of the recurring food memories I have about those wondrous summers. The tchot available at the kandarwans in NOIDA, are no good compared to the original.
A memory that flashes by every now and then, is sitting down for lunch with my grandfather on a day he was fasting. He shared with us khichdi made from coarsely pounded dried singara (water chestnut). Water chestnut flour is used to make pakoras or shankarpare during fasts, but never since have I seen anyone even mention khichri. I wonder if singara grits are even available today.
Another elusive and rare fruit of this land is the bumtchoonth or quince. I had only the faintest memories of eating it but recurrent they nevertheless were, these memories. When I read bloggers rave about the quince, the craving for this somewhat exotic fruit grew stronger. A friend of mine is working on the conservation of Tibetan paintings in the monasteries of Leh and gets to visit the place often. Some time last year I asked him to be on the lookout for bumtchoonth, and would remind him every time he was headed that way.
Then two weeks ago my mother called me over for dinner and served bumtchoonth wangun (quince with eggplant)! A cousin had visited Kashmir and brought over some quince, cooking apples, and cranberry beans and shared the bounty with her. I can’t remember when I last ate this exquisitely paired dish. Every perfect morsel, with a bit of eggplant and a portion of quince, was mixed into the rice with a little bit of the gravy and devoured in silence.
The following day I heard from my friend – he had procured some really strange looking fruit, seemingly, a cross between an apple and a pear, which the Kashmiri shopkeeper in Leh had assured him was the bumtchoonth. He was anxious to be delivered of the precious cargo; God knows I had bothered him enough. It wasn’t really his fault that he was finding it hard to find the elusive fruit. Though much appreciated for its flavour and fragrance, quince is hard to prepare than your average fruit or vegetable. Coring it is not the easiest of jobs. Only the occasional apple grower retains a tree or two in his orchard. The markets then are not exactly overflowing with the bounty as I had imagined. Somehow Maninder had managed to procure five beautiful pieces of perfectly ripe quince!
I got no time that week to cook with them. On the weekend my parents were visiting and my father made short work of one of the quinces. He likes the mouth-puckering sweet-sour taste of quince. I understand that not all quince are edible uncooked, but the Kashmir variety, it seems, is. I was planning all kinds of things with the remaining four…
The first one was peeled, sliced, cored and poached in syrup. It is sitting in a jar in the refrigerator to be served on ice cream. The second one I made into marmalade combined with a lime from my mother’s tree. Incidentally, marmalade originally meant jam of quince! You have to make a jam or a jelly with quince to really understand how pectin-rich this fruit is! Even though my hot jam looked fluid it has jelled as if there is gelatin in there! And the colour – a most delicate salmon pink!
The cores of all have been dried and preserved. In Srinagar, quince is sold cored, and the core sold separately. The cores, pips and all, were boiled in water and the resulting liquid was prized as a conditioner for hair. Given the amount of pectin there, it must have been the equivalent of our modern-day gel! I am keeping the cores for later jam making though.
1 quince, peeled, cored, and rough chopped (about 2 cups)
1 lime, sliced thin
1 3/4 C water
2 C sugar
In a nonreactive pan simmer the quince and lime in water till the fruit is soft. Bring the cooked fruit to a rolling boil and add sugar, half a cup at a time, so that the contents continue to boil. Alternatively, warm the sugar and add to the pan. Continue to cook till setting point. To check for setting point, put a spoonful of the jam on a cold plate and chill. If a skin forms that wrinkles when pushed then setting point has been reached. Pour the hot jam into sterilized bottles and screw on the lids. When cool, wipe any spills with a damp cloth, and store. [For more on jam making read this and this.]
That above is the bonus recipe. The one that I am going to share now, bumtchoonth wangun (quince with eggplant) is the special one. Buntchoonth wagun is a much loved dish of the Kashmiris. It was always there on the shradhha lunch menu. When quince are not to be found, they are often substituted with sour apples to prepare tchoonth wangun. In summer, dried apples are used to prepare tchoonth wangun. This was my first time cooking bumtchoonth wangun. Lucky for me, at my mum’s dinner the other night I did get to refresh my memory of it while getting tips on how to prepare it.
(Quince with Eggplant)
1 quince, peeled, cored, and sliced
2 slender eggplant (light pink-purple ones preferred)
1 1/2 T fennel powder
2 t coriander powder
1 t ginger powder
1/2 t turmeric powder
1 t cayenne pepper powder
1 green cardamom
2 green chillies, slit (optional)
1/2 t Kashmiri or Punjabi garam masala
2 T yoghurt
a pinch hing
2-3 T mustard oil
salt to taste
Prepare quince. Halve eggplant along length, and cut into section about 2 inches long. I had 12 such sections.
Make a thin paste of all the powdered spices with a little water and keep ready. Heat oil in a karahi and saute the quince pieces till they are golden. Remove with a slotted spoon. In the remaining oil saute the eggplant sections till golden. If you have used up all the oil then add a teaspoon more. Add hing to the hot oil, followed by cloves, tejpatta, and the cardamom. Turn heat down and add the spice paste. Cook till the water evaporates and the spices start to roast. Stir briskly so that they do not burn. Add yoghurt and stir a minute or two. Add the sauteed quince and eggplant. Add water to cover the vegetables. Add the slit green chillies and salt. Simmer, covered, till quince is tender, about 30 minutes. Add more water if needed. The dish should have a little gravy but not be watery. Take off heat. Sprinkle with garam masala and serve over steamed rice.
It measured up to the memory alright.
[PS: I just had some of that marmalade on toast – it is the best marmalade ever! Now all I have to do is be nice to Maninder and maybe he’ll get me some more quince!]
31 thoughts on “Bumtchoonth Wangun: Walking down memory lane…”
Awesome prelude…u really had my attention focused till the last word of this post. I have never even seen how quince looks like :(…now i need to taste it/make it after seeing you “devouring quince in silence” from your plate (hoping those fingers are yours).
Still getting used to the previous look!
Lovely educative post.
Quince here at Melbourne is not much appreciated by me.But your post makes me eye it with more interest!
The Quince looks a bit like some different variety of guava.. at least on the first look.
The new look is awesome.
Lucky you! Love the bumtchoonth-wangun!! I am glad you got to enjoy the fruit from Kashmir. It’s been ages since i found it here in the supermarket! Once i find good ones, i just buy in bulk and dry the slices. And thank you for mentioning cranberry beans. I remember someone looking at me like i had gone crazy when i told them we do have black beans and cranberry beans in India!
And the mention of singhara khichri! A real trip down the memory lane! The singhara grits used to be available in old pansari shops back in the pind. Not sure if anyone makes them now. That and the bajra khichri..
Thank you soooooooo much for this post! Your post has triggered quite a bout of nostalgia of flavors!
I like the remodeled website. The writing is as charming as ever. As a law student who is used to reading boring cases after cases this bit warms my heart—- I think the plethora of experiences you have had as a child gives it so much more added flavor— don’t know about Quince though— another interesting edible thing I shall probably only read about.
Hmmm. I see quince now and then for sale- I am sure they aren’t as good as the ones you’ve procured- but I have yet to taste one or anything made with them! Hing, eh? I can “taste” the whole masala because it reminds me of that for tcharvan-olu, but hing? I’m curious, but it sure looks good!
And I apologize: I already miss the warm and cozy feel of the former look, but I accept change.
I would love to visit Kashmir once.
Never knew on could make curry with quince, i have only heard marmalde and cakes.
They way you talked aobut this dish make me want to hav them and seeing that pic how you anjoying them with rice , well i wish it was my fingers which i was using to pop those delicous morsels into my drooling mouth 🙂
Once we ate some small guavas called Chinese guavas, and they were shaped like this. Nice that you got some old and unforgotten tastes back – sometimes I wonder if I even remember some of the things I grew up with. I think of them only when I see them, have been without them for so long.
And quince reminds me of this verse:
“They dined on mince and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;”
Thanks to this post, I re-read the poem now. (The Owl and The Pussycat)
Hi Anita, thanks for sharing with us about Quince,I remember my college room-mate(from Srinagar) talking about them.This post reminded me about the long afternoon chats with her on the terrace under the balmy winter sun of Delhi!!!I am sure you had good reasons to change the layout of the post, but i really loved the old look….keep writing….and thanks….
First of all the new look is ‘rocking’!
Now, I am sure I have come across quince before but dont seem to remember anything else apart from that. It would definitely have been during my stay in Delhi. Do you know what they are called in Hindi if at all they have a name in that language for it?
Quince as a savory ingredient is really new to me.I live in Pennsylvania and was recently at a cocktail party,where they served blue cheese with quince jelly.It was out of this world.
I enjoy reading your blog,you have a great and fun way of expressing yourself
PS: I did visit Kashmir when I was 9 years old,along with my parents and sisters.Although none of the pictures survived,I still remember all of it very clearly- the ride on dal lake,yummy food,beautiful and friendly people .
what a post.. if i had to grade ur posts, this one would be tops. so much of emotion in one post..exactly as sra said, sigh!!
Thats a nice new home for the party Anita! Your blog looks exotic. And after reading just about poaching quince here I had enough dose in one well written post. Anita, I think quince is not available down south. Once I confused this with a fruit “vilvam” but my sister said they were not the same. If you could show me a pic of the tree it would be great. And if they were the same I shall send you loads of it to u 😉
Awesome new look! Loved the post. Really want to make it. While my quest for quince is on, is there an alternative (apple?) that can be used for the time being?
haha…i am with Sra there…I had only heard of ‘quince’ in the Owl and Pussycat poem…thought it was the stuff of myth, much like a marriage between a nocturnal avian and the smug feline…then again, it turns out to be the stuff of legends 🙂
How is it possible that my mouth is watering while reading a post about something I haven’t even heard of before, let alone eaten?! Thats the magic of your writing Anita – and the new website only enhances every bit of it! thanks
It’s been so loooong since I visited … the new layout is absolutely beautiful Anita! I have never tasted quince, wish I could land some. Lovely, lovely recipes!
i loved the kashmiri spice mix. i am cooking so many of my vegetable curries with those spices. if would be fantastic if could share more kashmiri style spice mixes.
A Kashmiri Pandit friend of mine used to bring this paneer dish which was yellow in colour. I am guessing turmeric was used. I remember the taste as being subtle and delicate. I know this is woefully inadequate detail, but would you at all know about this dish.
I know exactly what you are talking about – paneer kaliya! I cooked it for a bunch of my friends just last week…will eventually make it to the blog.
It’s so odd reading about how rare quinces are in your contry. And consider how odd the world is. In my country (Italy) people are regularly seeking uncommon foods from overseas, and believe me some fruits os spices are not so easy to found. Quinces on the contrary are very common in my country while you seek them in yours. So it goes.
Quinces are not suitable for direct eating, you must cook them. And the main way to cook these fruits is preparing a fabulous, gorgeous, childhood tasting, solid jam.
Try it! Simply cut quinces in small cubes and cook with peel and seeds for half an hour till everything is a puree (add a dash of water). Pass everything through a sieve and cook again adding 80% in weight of sugar. When jam is ready (use common rules to prepare preserves) spread it 1 inch thick on a large plate and wait for 2 or 3 days. The jam will become quite solid. Cut in 1 x 3 inches cubes, sprinkle with sugar and wrap singularly. And…yumm…bread butter…and THIS JAM
Finally got hold of a quince and cooked this recipe!
Delicious! Thank you!
My friend couldn’t find me any this year... 😦
I’ve been hunting for a good brand of mustard oil where I live.. When I was in India, I used to use RRO kachi ghani tel.. The brands I’ve seen here are all light in color and don’t seem quite right.. can you please give me some helpful pointers as to how to pick out a good brand of mustard oil.
Hi, Jo. Cold pressed mustard oil is usually darker is colour but some good oils can be a medium gold. I have found the refined kinds to be light, and these are useless – meant for those who do not like the aroma. Look for a medium gold colour, good aroma (pungent, can even bring tears to the eyes!), good if it says “kacchi ghani,” and stay clear of anything that says ‘refined!’
Thank you Anita,
I picked up a small bottle of mustard oil .. quite dark in color..and it tasted alright. I just fried up couple of shrimps in it.. Yummy.. Now I need to try out the quince wangun curry with the lonely quince waiting in my fridge 🙂
Fried shrimp, yum! If only I knew how to pick shrimp now!
That bumtchoonth wangun is such a pleasant surprise! Let me know what you think of it.
Dear Anita Aunty,
Thank you for a wonderful recipe. I tried this last weekend and enjoyed it fully over the next couple of days. The flavors of quince, eggplant and saunf powder came together very beautifully. I have been lurking on your blog for months but had to de-lurk to express my appreciation where it so clearly due. 🙂
I am looking forward to making the dish again for some friends. I am thinking I will keep the Kashmiri theme in the whole menu. In addition to rice, what other typical Kashmiri dishes would be good additions to the menu in your opinion?
Thank you so much for your time.
Thank you for writing in, Dearie. Include some meat dishes; a Kashmiri meal is incomplete without a couple of them.
All ur updates abt quince got me thinking about this mystical fruit and surprise, surprise it suddenly appears in front of me at Wholefood…had to buy it and try this recipe thanks for introducing me to this wonderful fruit and recipe. I had never tasted anything like this before.
Thanks for introducing me to the world of Kashmiri vegetarian food…i love it!!!
Welcome to a slice of Kashmir! It’s the season for quince but I have to source them from Srinagar. They can also be sliced and dehydrated for later use. When I cannot get hold of quince I use firm tart apples in their place.