If there is one things that I really don’t need in my house, it is more jam. I have a rather mad tendency to make lots of it, all summer and autumn, and in far greater quantities than we can eat it. Bramble, apricot, cherry and quince all line my shelves. And we don’t mention the disasters involving rowan berries and sloes…but we all have mishaps in the kitchen from time to time!
So…quinces are in season…and I just couldn’t resist the lure of making quince jelly. I mean, the colour alone is amazing, right?
The reason I like preserves is they capture the flavours of otherwise ephemeral fruit. The fruit is edible right now, but if you left it sitting for a week or two, it would turn bad. But boil it up with sugar, and it will stay good for a long time. I am just finishing the last jar of bramble jelly made from with forest fruit from a trip to Epping Forest last autumn. But that is nothing – back home, my mother stored jars of jam that were several years old. Little pots of sugary Victoria plum and raspberry, all celebrating multiple birthdays in the requisite cool, dark place.
Some foodies might think that jam should be eaten within a month or so of being made, but for me, that misses the point. It is a means of preserving fruit, and as such, the longer you can make it last, the better, all the better when it brings back some happy memories of almost-forgotten warm, sunny days.
At the weekend, I got hold of quinces in a local fruit shop. I picked out eight choice specimens, and brought them home with the intention of making quince jelly. I had a successful go at quince jam at the end of spring with some Turkish quinces, but now their English cousins have appeared in the shops here, so I wanted to try making jelly. I always think of jam and jelly as sisters. The former prim and proper, wholesome and honest, whereas the latter is louche, flashy, complex and tricky, but all the more dazzling for it. A lot more work, but a lot more fun.
I digress. Quince jelly. Actually, sourcing the fruit was not as easy as I thought. Two weekends ago, I saw them everywhere, in all the posh food shops in Shoreditch. This weekend – nada, very hard to find. My shopping companion was not quite sure what they looked like, and kept producing giant apples and pears to ask if they were quince. In desperation, we tried Wholefoods. “Is that quince?” he asked. “No, it’s a persimmon” I replied. “This one?” in a hopeful tone. “No, that’s an Asian pear“. Patience (and hope) running out. I was getting despondent, but pressed on. Then finally, a whole crate! I was initially put off by how dusty they seemed to be. Surely they had been sitting somewhere for too long? Then I remembered that quince have an odd habit of developing a strange bloom on their skin, perfectly harmless, and this natural fuzz is easily removed with a little water.
Fruit sourced, I returned home and got cooking. A boon (the only boon) in making jelly is that you don’t need to make the fruit presentable before cooking it. Just remove stalks and cores, then shred everything. Boil up with some water, then strain overnight to extract the fruit juice. In the end, our kitchen looked a little worse for wear, pans and dishes everywhere, and bits of shredded quince stuck to just about every possible surface and utensil. But by early evening, the juice extraction was underway in the corner, an upturned stool holding a bowl and two teacloths balanced on a wooden stick. All went fine until I decided to poke it with a wooden spoon, at which point lots of sticky quince juice leaked out, onto the floor and some seeped down between the floorboards. I am hoping no damage done…lesson learned: don’t poke things with sticks unless you’re prepared for the fallout.
The next day, I had ended up with 2.5 litres of quince juice, which I was pretty happy with. I did the maths to work out how much sugar I needed, and came up with the eye-popping amount of 2kg. It looks a lot when you see it in a bowl, and you think it is way too much, but remember – jam and jelly making is a bit of a science, so playing with ingredients can make things go awry. Placing my faith in science, I added the sugar and the juice of two lemons to the quince juice, and started to cook up the (by now 3.5 litre) brew.
Well, this was certainly not one of those “bring to the boil, simmer for a minutes and it’s done” recipes. No, I found myself still standing over the stove and testing jelly samples an hour after the mixture reached boiling point.
I tried using a candy thermometer to find out when we reached the magic jelling point, but my brew was having none of it. The thermometer said all was good, but it was still obviously a very runny syrup. At that stage, my blind faith in science ran out, and I went back to the good old trick of using a cold plate and seeing if a drop of jelly wrinkled when you push it. It finally got there, and I was really quite relieved, as I did think I might have to come up with a use for 2 litres of quince cordial. Hmmm…I wonder how a Quincehattan would work?
Feeling a sense of pride that me and my mixture got there in the end, I bottled it up, and was finally able to enjoy the rewarding sight of nine jars of the most beautiful deep amber jelly. Sweet and with an aromatic quince flavour. It’s going to be great for brightening up those chilly winter mornings. Hard work, but utterly worth it.
To make quince jam:
• quinces (I used 8 )
• granulated white sugar
Wash the quinces. Remove the stalks and cores, but leave on the skin. Grate coarsely.
Put the quince into a large saucepan, press down lightly, and cover with water until the level is about 2-3cm above the fruit. Bring to the boil, and simmer for 50-60 minutes until the quince is tender. Mash the fruit to extract maximum flavour. If it seems a little too solid, add more water – we want the texture of soft applesauce.
Pour the mixture into a sterile tea towel or muslin cloth(*). Tie the edges together, and – being careful – use a string to attach the cloth to an upturned chair. Place a large bowl under the cloth, and leave overnight for the juice to drip through. Don’t squeeze the cloth, otherwise you end up with cloudy jelly (tastes the same, but looks less pretty), and in this recipe, you won’t be going short of juice.
Next day, measure the juice – for every 600ml of juice, add 500g of sugar, and the juice of 1/2 lemon. Add everything to a large heavy-based pan and heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat until the setting point(**) is reached – which can be anything from 10 minutes to an hour!
Finally, pour the hot jelly into sterile jam jars(***), seal, label and hide it somewhere to enjoy later.
(*) To sterilse the cloth, put into a sieve, and pour over boiling water.
(**) To test for the setting point, put a spoonful of the mixture on a very cold saucer. Let it cool, then tilt the saucer – if the jelly wrinkles, the setting point has been reached.
(***) To sterilise jam jars: wash with hot, soapy water, then rinse well. Place upside-down in a cold oven, and heat to 90°C for 15 minutes. Leave in the oven to cool down while you are making the jam . To sterilise the lids, wash with hot, soapy water, then rinse well, place in a saucepan with boiling water for 5 minutes.