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14th November 2017

Looking a little like a cross between an apple and a pear, quince is a mysterious fruit that many love when eaten, although it’s not a common item on the household shopping list. Quince has been cultivated and eaten for centuries, however, and Roman cookbooks specify the fruit should be served after being submerged in honey and reduced wine. Edward I loved the fruit so much he had some quince trees planted in the grounds at the Tower of London in the 13th century. Since British quince is in season from October to December, this is the perfect time of year to enjoy the fruit’s fragrant and smooth flavour once cooked. Beware – eat them raw at your peril – the flesh is hard and bitter until cooked.

Like quince, chestnuts are also seasonal in Britain at this time of year, as well as other places in the world. After all, it’s no accident that Nat King Cole sang about chestnuts roasting on an open fire in his Christmas hit. Indeed, the smell of roasting chestnuts is noticeable on the streets of London during the festive period too. Sweet chestnuts enjoy a long history in Europe, with their cultivation dating back to at least 2000BC. Many former civilisations are said to have survived wars and natural disasters because chestnuts were the only foodstuffs to grow well.

As a result of abundant woodlands of chestnuts and their seasonality at this time of year, many traditions have ensued of chestnuts at Christmas-time. In France, the marron glacé – a candied chestnut – is traditionally served at Christmas and New Year. In Modena in Italy, chestnuts are soaked in wine before being roasted and served. In Madeira, chestnut liquor is a traditional beverage, drunk all year round.

On our festive menu at Galvin at The Athenaeum – by Michelin-starred London chefs Chris and Jeff Galvin – we’ll be serving up baked quince with chestnut mousse and chocolate shortbread. This dessert comes garnished with a quince gel and fresh chestnuts rolled in honey. In savoury dishes, we’ll also be serving chestnut gnocchi with venison, packed with the rich flavours of the season.

Over the coming weeks, expect to see other seasonal winter favourites on our menus too, including pheasant with bacon and cranberries. Pheasant was a favourite of King Henry VIII, who is said to have employed a French priest specifically to breed pheasants for his lavish Tudor feasts!

 

We’ll also be serving other varieties of game and rich wintry favourites such as wild mushrooms, artichokes and truffle. Other ingredients in abundance at the moment are clementines, pears, apples, pumpkins, Brussels sprouts, pomegranate and kale. Our chefs are getting inventive as we speak to weave these hearty seasonal flavours into our menus.

From quince and chestnuts to venison and pheasant, this is a time of year to take luxuriant yet traditional foods and turn them into festive creations that will make you pine for Christmas all year round. That’s exactly what our chefs at Galvin at The Athenaeum have in store. You have been warned…

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