Tag Archives: Quince Jelly

It’s Quince Time

20121023-195933.jpgI blogged about quinces last year, but this noble and much ignored fruit deserves a yearly mention. There simply is nothing else that smells like quince. It has been described as a mixture of apple and pear with overtones of honey, and that is probably as close as you can get without actually experiencing quince yourself–but it is much better than that. I typically cook up the fruit and make a clear fruit juice for jelly. Used to be that was all I made with quince–Jelly. The yellow fruit is pretty enough, but it doesn’t look like much to begin with. And, while it is cooking, the house smells divine. I sometimes go outside just so I can come back in to the fresh smell of it. Once cooked, the liquid turns a rich rosé color,and the jelly looks jewel-like in jars.

The foreground tree was so heavily laden that it bent over to one side. As I picked the fruit, the branches lifted up off the ground a couple of feet, but the main trunk of the tree is still quiet askew. We will need to stake it and do some clever pruning to get it back into its upright position. The tree in the back is at the top of a little hill in our orchard. It took about an hour of going up and down a ladder to get most of the fruit off. I ran into trouble with the hawthorn tree next to it and gave up on a couple of pieces. After all–I already had nearly 100 pounds picked, and I don’t do so well on ladders.

20121023-201500.jpgSo now I have these two boxes of quince to process. If you look closely, you can see the one box has fruit that is more pear shaped, while the other box is a bit more rounded. Last year, I kept the two varieties completely separated in the cooking process. This year, I am going to do some mixtures to see if the combination of the two creates a more complex flavor profile. In addition to regular old plain jelly, I plan on repeating the experiment of quince-lime marmalade from last year, and adding in membrillo to my repertoire for the first time. I have plenty to experiment with!

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Ambrosia from the Orchard

One bowl, about a third of the total harvest. These are "Smyrna" quinces.

Last year’s quince harvest was lame–a singular fruit that I think I forgot about in the depths of the fridge. In the linked post, I was bemoaning the lack of quince while still dealing with the remaining jars of “not quite jelly” from the 2009 harvest. This year’s was more like the one in 2009, giving some credence to the “every-other-year” theory of fruit production.

I wasn’t exactly thrilled to have to deal with three huge bowls of quinces this weekend, but I also didn’t want to watch the fruit drop to the ground and get eaten and stomped to mush by the deer. We already lost a bunch of apples that way, and I didn’t want that to happen to this precious fruit.

It used to be every orchard had a quince tree, but the fruit has gone out of favor. I’ve seen small quantities of PCC in the fall, but it’s never available out of season. The rise of commercial pectin has made making jelly extremely easy and the humble quince unnecessary for the process. Before “Sure-Jell” and “Pomona’s Pectin” the home jelly maker had to rely upon quince or very long hours of cooking to make jelly. A quince or two in the jelly pot would provide enough jell-factor for just about any fruit. And still does, but who needs a quince when you have a sure-fire way of making jelly without it?

According to mythology, the quince was a gift from Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Thus quinces are widely represented in Greek paintings and mosaics as a symbol of commitment and fertility. An Athenian wedding tradition called for friends and family to toss quinces into the bridal chariot after a wedding. Some scholars even believe that quince may have been the “forbidden fruit” that Eve fed to Adam.

After washing, the fruit is cut into chunks and put into a big pot to cook until soft.

A number of people have told me they’ve never had quince before. I thought, “I’ll make a bunch of jelly and put it in small jars so I can let more people taste this stuff. I’ll make converts. People will rise up and demand quince trees all over the world!” Imagine my surprise when I couldn’t find 8oz jars at the store! Seriously? I am pretty sure people do not want a quart of any kind of jelly, no matter how delicious. I went through my stock and found about a dozen 1/2pt jars and eventually ended up ordering more online. Turns out that the best place to get canning jars is Ace Hardware.

I have more than five gallons of quince juice from two different trees. I’ll put at least half of that into jelly–made the old-fashioned “add sugar and cook for a long time” method. The other half will stay in the freezer and be turned into the Persian drink I mentioned in the blog post linked at top. I finished cooking the last batch of fruit just a little while ago, and the heady scent fills the house in a most delicious way.

The juice is strained and then cooked in small, four cup batches, to make jelly. I use about 3/4 C sugar per cup of juice and take it to 219 degrees F. It's about half an hour of standing and stirring.


The jelly is poured into hot, clean jars and left to seal.


The final color of the jelly is magical. The fruit is yellow, gets brownish when it oxidizes, and then turns into a lovely jewel.

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Happy Accidents Ala Mode

A handful of grapes and a singular quince.

Last year’s quince harvest was astounding. I don’t know how a laundry basket compares to a real bushel or peck, but we had a couple of laundry baskets last year. That’s a whole lot of quince. This year’s harvest has been quite the opposite. Given the huge quantity last year, I was understandably overwhelmed at the prospect of cleaning, cutting, cooking and juicing them all. I found a few recipes to use where the whole fruit was incorporated, but I resorted to jelly making for the bulk.

I made, I believe 32 pints of jelly. Might have been more. One batch got left to sit over night before I added the sugar and it was turned into a “Quince Wine Jelly” from the resulting mini-fermentation it received due to my negligence. I froze some syrup that makes a deliciously unique Persian drink when mixed with lime juice and seltzer. A couple of the batches of jelly I made turned out to be more syrup than jelly. Making it in small four- cup amounts is really the way to go, but I was beyond ready to be done with the whole mess when I dumped more than three times that into the jelly pot and declared it good. It never jelled. I stuck the resulting liquid in jars hoping time would make it stiffen up. A year later, I have several pints still sitting on the shelf waiting to be re-cooked in smaller batches. To be redone.

My mother-in-law's handwriting makes the jelly much more attractive. One of my non-jelled jars of tasty goodness.

Re-cooking jelly requires opening and emptying the jars, washing the jars and purchasing new seals. Needless to say, I haven’t gotten to that little project yet. Enter a box of fruit and veggies from Full Circle farm–a local CSA to which my in-laws were lucky to win a subscription. With our own apple and pear trees bearing heavily this year, I wasn’t exactly excited to get a bunch of pears, apples, nectarines and peaches all at the same time. When I’m faced with a bunch of fruit, I tend to defend myself by making pies. They require a lot of fruit all at once and you don’t generally have to worry about the jell factor.

One of our favorite pies is from a Sunset cookbook. You make a pie crust and bake it. Then, you fill the crust with fresh nectarine slices, raw, and berries–blackberries, bumbleberries whatever you might have. Then you take more berries, sugar and water and make a heated syrup thickened with cornstarch that you pour over the raw nectarines as a blanching glaze of sorts. You pop this in the fridge to let the berry sugar blend set for a few hours. Then, you slice and eat. It’s very simple, and the raw nectarines retain a freshness that cooked fruit does not.

I only had a bag of Remlinger Farm’s frozen mixed berries, and I decided that tossing them with the nectarines would result in a blechy mashup. Frozen berries work great in smoothies and are not at all pretty to look at when defrosted. I’m not exactly sure how I happened on this idea, but the fact that the non-jelly in my cupboard popped into mind. Why make a new syrup when I already had lots of it? I had Bill find a pint of it while I cut up the nectarines. Then, we heated up the syrup and I tossed in a couple of cups of frozen berries which almost all immediately melted into the syrup to create a quince based berry syrup. I had to leave right then, so Bill was ordered to add “some cornstarch” and pour the resulting hot liquid over the nectarines.

Evidently, unjelled jelly does not re-jell when you reheat it and add cups of berries to it. The cornstarch wasn’t quite enough, so after three hours in the fridge it was a nectarine and berry soup in crust. We spooned the resulting glop for dessert and dolloped some vanilla ice cream on top. Turns out, the filling was tastier than it ever had been with the regular Sunset recipe–jelled or not. The underlying base of quince syrup added a honey-like sweetness that matched up with the tartness of the berries with an unbeatable flavor. I would have to say this might be the best tasting pie I’ve made in a long, long while. It was that good.

Waffles with quince-berry syrup and whipped cream.

Given that I was totally guessing on quantity and flying by the seat of my pants, we had some of the resulting berry syrup leftover. It would have meant an overflowing pie plate, so Bill just left the resulting cup or so in the pot. This morning, he made waffles and heated up the syrup for a breakfast treat that was simply amazing. I’ll be doing some more experiments with the quince syrup and see where it will go for me in other ways. I just love it when a little accident in the kitchen can turn out so darn tasty in the end.

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