El-Safarjaal (Quince) Season

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In loving memory of my dear brother, Dr. Adnan Ghalib Abbasi.

Story by Feryal Abbasi-Ghnaim
Translation by Wafa Ghnaim

Brothers and sisters, it’s that time of year when quince, or el-safarjal (السفرجل), is in season again! Quince is one of my favorite fruits, not only because of the delicious preserves I make every year, but because of its symbolism in the most significant moments of my life. There is an old saying in Arabic about quince:

“How shall I remember you, oh quince? Every bite is bittersweet. Where do I start my story with you, oh quince?” (كيف بدي اتذكرك ياسفرجلة بكل مصة غصة, من اين ابدأ قصتي معك ايها السفرجلة؟)

Though not the beginning, I will start my quince story in 1989, when my husband, daughters and I moved from the east coast of the United States to settle in Portland, Oregon. Oregon’s moderate temperatures during the fall and winter is similar to the climates in Palestine, Jordan and Syria and brings in a robust harvest of fruits, like quince, every year.

At our new home in Oregon, we discovered a neighbor had a quince tree in her backyard. When we first met her, we immediately asked how she prepared the luscious batch of delicious quince that fell from the tree in her backyard. She admitted that she did not know what to do with them, and asked if we could take them off her hands. I learned how to make quince as a young girl, growing up in Damascus and Jordan. Preparing quince preserves is a recipe passed on from my mother and grandmother, as it grew generously in this part of the world.

Thus began my quince journey in America.

In the same year my brother, the late Dr. Adnan Abbasi (may he rest in peace), visited us from Troy, Michigan. My brother mentioned that he hadn’t eaten quince since for over 20 years , and had longed for the preserves our family prepared growing up. From that point on, my husband and I began our search for a quince tree – one that we can harvest and grow throughout the years.

So, we began our search for quince seeds. We visited a number of farms and nurseries all over Oregon – we had no idea where to find these seemingly rare quince seeds. It took us years of researching and exploring Oregon until finally, we found a small quince tree 12 feet in length! I don’t remember exactly where in Oregon we found this little miracle, because I was so overwhelmed with delight that all I could do was stuff the tree in our small car, setting it over the passenger seats through the front seat window – to get it home immediately.

Many years passed before my beautiful quince tree bore fruit. During that time, our neighbor happily let us pick the quince so that hers didn’t go to waste. Our quince tree became lush and tall, finally bearing fruit a few years later.

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Orange quince from my tree.

I practiced during those years, on my neighbors quince. I learned that there are many different kinds of quince, such as the pineapple quince. This type of quince is small or medium and smells exactly like a pineapple. Quince is also referred to as “hard apples”, likely due to its size, shape and texture being similar to apples. My tree bore the orange quince, which was large and weighed about one kilogram. The orange quince also resembled that of an oversized, yellow, malformed apple.

Quince grew and ripened best during the months of October and November in Oregon. I was blessed with a tree that bore a lot of fruit! As soon as I could, I made my brother his first batch of quince preserves and from that point on, I sent him a fresh batch of  quince preserves every fall season so he would never run out again. I found so much joy in making this delicious jam, that I would try to keep up with the quince tree, making extra batches so they would not go to waste. I’d share them with my friends, relatives and neighbors. I would also need to make enough for my husband and three daughters who loved quince on bread, peanut butter and quince jam sandwiches, and quince-filled desserts.

In 2002, my brother suddenly fell ill. One month and a half after I found out of my brothers illness, I was in my kitchen. Contemplating, I stared out the kitchen window to my lush yard, full of apple trees, cherry trees, fig trees, blackberry bushes, mint… and then suddenly I saw my beloved quince tree. It was uncharacteristically heaving over, with a large branch touching the ground. It was almost as though it looked sick, but I wondered if I had waited too long to pick my next batch of orange quince. Maybe the weight was too much to bear. I called my youngest daughter, Safa, and asked her to help me pick the tree and lift the branch off of the ground. She quickly came with a wicker basket, prepared to help.

When we walked outside to the tree, I was surprised to see that the tree had split from the very center of the trunk from an infestation. Tears streamed down my face, and I cried to Allah. My brother and the tree were one.

When one was sick, so was the other.

Later that year, I visited my brother in Michigan with my two daughters. With me, I brought 12 jars of quince preserves — my usual shipment to him every fall season. I was able to salvage some of the quince, though the tree had been recuperating from infestation.

My brother passed away in November of 2003, during the quince season. But that year, I didn’t go pick the quince from my tree. The quince tree and I, together, mourned the loss of my brother. We let the quince fall to the ground in full batches, for the first time. The grief in losing my older brother, my best friend and loyal supporter, was overwhelming. And in my sadness, I could no longer carry the tradition of making my annual batch of quince preserves for my brother.

Many years passed, and the quince fruit would pile up only to decompose. When once I would run outside to collect the quince before they would go bad — I now let the quince freeze in the ice and rot in the rain.

A few years ago, my husband was cleaning up our storage room and found a couple jars of quince preserves. He brought it up to the kitchen to taste it. I told him I was sure the quince had gone bad. How could it last this long without molding? Years had passed, and I wasn’t certain. But he said that it still tasted great, and it had not gone bad.

Quince actually has high levels of natural pectin in it, a substance that allows the quince to stay preserved over time. I didn’t think it could keep for so long, I thought just a year or two. But thanks to my husband’s insistence on eating the quince, I discovered just how long they could keep!

My husband sent the one jar of the quince preserves to my son-in-law, who loved it. I asked that he throw away the rest, but he refused to! My husband started working on the second jar he found, and would not throw it away either. They wanted to eat it all!

I couldn’t stand to know they were eating years old quince jam! I told my husband, “Tomorrow, when you return from work, you will have a fresh batch of quince preserves.” Like I promised, when my husband came home the next evening, so was my homemade preserves and I threw the old jar in the garbage.

Their love of quince preserves reminded me of my brothers spirit and inspired me to begin my annual tradition of canning quince. From that point forward, I once again continued my sacred quince ritual in memory of my brother.


My dear friend, Linda Dalal Sawaya, shares in my passion for making quince preserves during the fall. We met recently to discuss our different recipes, which you can read about here.


 

االإخوة والأخوات: – لقد عاد موسم السفرجل من جديد, بذكرياته الحلوة والمرة, لي مع السفرجل قصص وحكايات, لقد صدق المثل القائل:- كيف بدي اتذكرك ياسفرجلة بكل مصة غصة, من اين ابدأ قصتي معك ايها السفرجلة? سأبدأ منذ ان رحلنا من شرق الولايات المتحدة الى الغرب واستقرينا في بورتلاند- اوريغون حيث المناخ يشبه نوعا ما منطقة الشرق الأوسط بالنسبة للطقس والمزروعات وحتى لا أطيل الوصف وجدنا فيها شجر السفرجل وعند الجيران وهم لايستفيدوا منه فعرضوا علينا ان نأخذ مانريد طالما اننا نستطيع الإستفادة منه.

في نفس السنة زارنا اخي المرحوم الدكتور عدنان والذي كان من سكان ميتشغان وتفاجأ بوجود تطلي سفرجل عندي والذي لم ياكله منذ عشرون عاما, قررت انا وزوجي ان نبحث عن شجرة لنزرعها عندنا في البستان فضلا عن الإعتماد على شجرة الجيران…وبدأنا بالبحث عن شتلة وزرنا عددا من المزارع والمشاتل عدا عن سؤال معارفنا…اخذ منا وقتا واقصد سنوات حتى في النهاية وجدنا شجيرة طولها 12 قدم ووضعناها في سيارتنا الصغيرة من الخلف ومرورا من فوق الكراسي ويخرج جزءا منها من النافذة الأمامية, المهم دبرناها ووصلنا الى البيت وزرعناها في البستان.

مرت على الشجرة سنوات حتى بدأت تثمر وخلال هذه السنوات كنا نأخذ السفرجل من شجرة الجيران تمشاية حال حتى اثمرت شجرتنا واصبحت ضخمة وعالية جداً.

تعلمت خلال تلك السنوات الكثير عن السفرجل,تعلمت ان للسفرجل انواع كثيرة منها مايدعى بالسفرجل الأنناسي وهو ذات رائحة مثل رائحة الأنناس القوية اما نوع شجرتنا فهو يدعى سفرجل البرتقال الضخم الحجم تزن الحبة الكبيرة منه حوالي الكيلو غرام,

والسفرجل بشكل عام من فصيلة التفاح ويدعى Hard apples.

مرت السنوات وكنت كل سنة في هذا الشهر اصنع التطلي وارسل لأخي مونة السنة كما وكنت اوزع على بعض الأصدقاء والأقارب لكثرة منتوج الشجرة…وهكذا لعدة سنوات…في احدى السنوات فوجئت بمرض أخي المفاجئ وكان المرض خطيرا والنهاية قرينة لامحالة…في تلك السنة جاء الموسم وصنعت التطلي كالعادة وحملته هذه المرة معي وذهبت لزيارة اخي وكانت آخر سنة اعمل فيها تطلي.حضرت من ميتشغان والحزن يعتصر قلبي…وفي اليوم التالي نظرت من النافذة لأرى الشجرة,فوجئت عندما رأيت غصنا كبيرا ينحني ويلامس الأرض لثقل ماتحمله فناديت على ابنتي صفاء لتخرج معي الى البستان لنرفع الغصن ولعلنا نضع شيئا نركيه عليه…تفاجأت بأن جذع الشجرة قد انفسخ من الوسط…فبكيت وقلت سبحان الله أخي وشجرته مصابين في آن واحد…توفي اخي في نفس الشهر تشرين الثاني وكانت آخر مرة اعمل فيها تطلي…انا والشجرة اعلنا الحداد…

مرت سنوات والسفرجل يتساقط على الأرض ثم ينزل عليه الثلج ويتحلل دون ان المسه, وفي احدى السنوات كان زوجي يرتب غرفة المخزن وإذا به يجد مرتبان تطلي قديم فأحضره إلى المطبخ وبدأ يأكل منه تفاجأت وصحت به: -كيف تأكل هذا وهو قديم منذ سنوات? فقال ولكنه لايزال جيدا…

إنا حسب معرفتي عن السفرجل انه يحتوي على نسبة عالية جدا من مادة البكتين وهي مادة حافظة لاتوجد إلا بالسفرجل…رغم ذلك فالقديم قديم ولا يصح اكله ولكنه اصر على اكله وانضم له صهرنا خاصة بعد ان وجد زوجي مرتبانا آخرا واعطاه لصهرنا عندها قلت لهون وبس…رفضوا ان يرموا التطلي القديم فما كان علي إلا ان افك الحداد, وكان الثمر لايزال على الأرض والرجال في العمل…قررت عنده ان اعود الى عمل التطلي…عادوا من العمل في المساء واذا بالتطلي الطازج يرحب بهم عندها افرجوا عن القديم ووضعوه في الزبالة…وعدت لعمل التطلي من جديد.

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