22 October, 2008

The Quince: Aphrodite's apple

The quince is a fruit you hear of, rather than see. There is something old-fashioned almost mythical about it. It is the fruit Paris gave to Aphrodite, possibly the original forbidden fruit, a character in Shakespeare and a meal for the owl and the pussycat. But I'm not sure I had really ever seen one until a year or so ago in my local fruit and veg wholesaler in Stamford Hill, which catered for the diverse communities of Hackney and Haringey. Suddenly there they were. Large, daffodil yellow, hard pear-shaped fruit with a grey down. At the time I made membrillo or quince paste/cheese with them to eat with cheese after dinner.

Now I find I am living opposite an orchard with most prized of all, a quince tree. The house is a second home, so not often occupied. But I'm no scrumper, so after much hesitation I made sure to say hello to my new neighbour and ask if they'd mind if I had a few quinces. Turned out they really didn't mind and weren't sure what they were in the first place. I took five then and the other day after a big storm, I picked up all the windfalls I could find that weren't the worse for wear - which is at least twenty. The neighbour will be getting a jar of quince jelly to say thank you. But first to make it.

I tested my recipe with the first five, as this is my first attempt at jelly-making with quinces. And actually I'm not sure I got my redcurrant quite right which was my first jelly full stop.

Quince jelly (from The Basic Basics Jams, Preserves and Chutneys Handbook by Marguerite Patten)

900g/2 lb/2lb quinces
900ml to 1.5 litres / 1.5 to 2.5 pints /3.75 to 6.75 cups water
sugar (see method)
lemon juice (see method)

Cut up the quinces - do not peel or core them but cut away any bruised parts. Put into the pan with the right amount of water: use the smaller amount if the fruit is really ripe and the maximum quantity if very hard.

Simmer gently until the fruit becomes a soft pulp. Put through the jelly bag or muslin and measure the juice. I got 1 pint of juice from the five quinces and used a medium amount of water.

Allow 450g/1 lb/ 2 cups sugar to each 600ml/1pint/2.5 cups of juice. Heat the juice, add the sugar and stir over a low heat until dissolved.

If the fruit was very ripe the juice will contain less pectin so allow 2 tablespoons (2.5 American tablespoons) lemon juice to each 600 ml/1 pint/2.5 cups quince juice. Boil rapidly until setting point is reached. Pour into hot sterilized jars and seal down.

Yes you can see bubbles. I think this is very set jelly so I can probably pot up a little earlier next time. It tastes delicious and should be lovely on toast, crumpets or with cold meats.

N.B. For more recipes try Jane Grigson's Fruit Book which has a typically beautifully written introduction to the fruit followed by tempting delicacies like Quail with Slices of Quince, Quince Tart and Quince and Apple Souffle in addition to Membrillo and Quince Vodka (which sounds fabulous!).


mountainear said...

Well done you - those jars look good.

Quince jelly is on the list of things to do tomorrow - fantastic stuff with a beautiful delicate fragrance. We eat ours with chicken or lamb. I think we've put it in apple pie too but can't remember how we got round the fact that it is a lot harder than apples.

Beautiful big papery flowers in spring too.

Elizabeth Musgrave said...

I love quinces and make the jelly too. Our quince tree is a small and elderly one with small and elderly fruit but I have planted another in what I laughingly call the orchard.
Fabulous colour your jelly!

Marilyn said...

Wonderful! This is such a delicious and lovely post. You're absolutely right, quince is often heard and rarely seen - so glad you brought it to light.