‘They dined on mince, and slices of quince
Which they ate with a runcible spin
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. ‘
An excerpt from the lyrical ‘The Owl and the Pussy-cat’ by Edward Lear. This nonsensical poem has always tickled my fancy. From the pea-green boat, the unlikely pairing of a cat and an owl to the mince, quince and runcible spoon. What on earth is a runcible spoon? Conjecture abounds and opinion is varied. (Yes, another hard hitting exposé from the Cheergerm. Not exactly a hot topic on Twitter but it still matters, right?) It is certainly a word that Lear made up and appears in several of his works in different connotations. There is a ‘runcible cat’, a ‘runcible hat’, a ‘runcible goose’ and a ‘runcible wall’.
Some dictionaries define a ‘runcible spoon’ as a fork with three curved tines, or a ‘spork’. In one of his accompanying illustrations, Lear actually drew the ‘runcible spoon’ as more of a ladle. Some believe that it was a spoon designed specifically for babies by one of Edward Lears friends, George Runcy. However, this does not explain the varied use of the word in his other poems. It is most likely a word that Lear invented purely because of the delicious way it sounds and not because it had any real meaning to him.
Quince is my current fruity obsession. This dish is baked long and slow in butter and floral pink-tinged honey, given by a friend. Dark in colour, achingly soft and sweet; you can definitely cut these quince with a spoon. Preferably a runcible spoon.
QUINCES BAKED IN HONEY
WHAT YOU NEED
3 large quinces, washed well
4 tbl runny honey
1/4 cup water
HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat the oven to 150C.
Wash the quinces very well. Halve but do not peel the quinces then remove the pips and core each of them with a spoon to make a hollow. (This is not a job for wimps. Be warned.)
Place in a gratin dish that will hold them snugly (unlike mine) and using a third of the butter, grease the dish.
Arrange the quinces, hollow side up. Divide the remaining butter and honey between the hollows and pour water gently around the sides.
Cover the dish with foil and bake for at least 3 hours (denying on the size of the quinces) until they are soft and rich red. (Turn quinces over after 1 1/2 hours.)
Serve hot or warm with hollows filled with the honey juices and with cream, ice-cream , yoghurt or marscapone.
Recipe from The Cooks Companion by Stephanie Alexander , published by Penguins Books, 1996