Tag Archives: quince

{2} Sparkling Quince Candy

In all the years that I’ve been tackling various Christmas delights, what has struck me is how few of them are actually suitable for vegans. Sure, a lot of them could be adjusted to make them suitable, but few of them are, from the out, completely plant-based. Perhaps the nearest traditional recipe I’ve tried has been sugarplums, albeit it you would need to swap out the honey for some other syrup. My festive sweet chestnut wagashi from 2012 were indeed completely vegan, but as they were more the sort of thing you might expect in Japan than from a German Christmas market, I’m not entirely sure that they would really count.

Well, it’s time to change that. The hero of the hour is that most frustrating of fruits, the quince, which appears in various countries as part of their festive fare. They always look so enticing, large, smooth and golden. Indeed, they are reputed to be the real “golden apples” that Hercules was challenged to steal from the Garden of the Hesperides (although others suggest they were actually oranges), and quinces were also thought to be sacred to the goddess Venus, making them a symbol of love and fertility.

4quincesbluebowl
All well and good, but if you’ve every tried to cook with quince (at least the ones that grow in chillier Northern climes), you’ll appreciate that they don’t ripen into sweet, juicy fruit, but remain hard and rather astringent while raw. They might look tempting, but bite into one and you’ll soon wish you hadn’t!

This was very clear to me during autumn – two streets from my house, someone has a large quince tree in front of their house. Every few days, a quince would appear on the ground with some teeth marks. One by one, each of the quinces met the same fate. Clearly several passing opportunists had tried their luck, each being disappointed in turn. No, in this country, we need to cook quinces to change them into something fragrant and delicious.

Indeed, it is the cooking that makes the magic happen. This is not like cooking apples or pears (to which quinces bear similar appearance). Cooking quince down with some sugar and lemon juice transforms the hard pale yellow flesh into something completely different. Rich in colour, ranging from soft pink to deep garnet red, a delicious sweet with a rich pear-and-honey flavour!

quincecandy3quincecandy4
In reality, today’s post is really just a jazzed-up version of simple quince paste, with the sparkling element coming from being rolled in granulated sugar. All in all, it’s similar to Spanish membrillo served alongside manchego cheese. Of course, quince paste is not something that is limited to Spain. Similar things pop up all over the place, such as British quince cheese, France’s pâte de coing (which features as one of the Thirteen Desserts of Christmas (Les Treize Desserts de Noël) traditionally enjoyed after a festive meal in Provence) or Croatian kotonjata that is enjoyed at this time of year.

They all follow a similar recipe, but vary the amount of sugar, which results in different levels of sweetness and textures that range from firm and chewy to soft and melting. They are also suitable as a vegan treat, as they contain nothing more than quince, sugar and lemon juice, plus a little water to get things going, relying on the naturally high pectin levels in quince to get a good set (no gelatine here). The only thing you are asked to give to make quince candy is time, time and more time!

quincecandy2
I would describe this sweet as similar to Turkish Delight, so if you love that, then you’ll enjoy this. It has that same sweet, slightly chewy texture, albeit it has the graininess of quince rather than the smoothness of Turkish Delight. It’s worth noting that as you puree the quince, rather than just using the juice, you don’t get a completely smooth jelly. However, the main difference from Turkish Delight is that it is a lot, lot easier to make. There is no messing around with cornflour mixtures until everything turns to gloopy goo…just cook the quince until soft, puree it, then add sugar and cook the lot until done. Basta!

quincecandy5
I actually made this over two evenings, which is probably the easiest way to do it given how busy we all are at this time of year. The first evening, let the prepared quince cook down. This is the easy bit, and you can leave it on the hob to simmer while you’re doing something else (making cookies or watching a film…). This is the point where you’re also delighted that the quince flesh has turned to a soft pink colour, and you imagine that this will be the colour of the finished candy.

The second evening is a bit more involved. Once the sugar and lemon juice are in the mixture, the lot needs to reduce. Initially this is fine, and you don’t need to stir it very often at all, but as it cooks down, you’ve got a much higher sugar ratio in there, and towards the end, you have the sheer delight of stirring the boiling, bubbling mixture over a very hot stove. Lucky that it is so chilly outside! At this stage, I was amazed by the colour change – gone was the soft, gentle pink, and instead I had an intensely deep, dark red colour. Really quite amazing – this was just the result of the cooking process, where the heat of cooking causes a red pigment called anthocyanin to appear (or maybe it was there all along – I’m no scientist!). The final shade and its intensity is a result of the quince variety and where it was grown. If you make this, you could get the same garnet colour, or it might look quite different. So I guess what I’m saying is that there are no guarantees, so live a little and see what colour you end up with.

quincecandy6
A few final little tips – once you’ve made the giant block of quince candy and you have cut it up, you are advised to leave it uncovered in a warm and dry place. This will help the candy dry out slightly. What you want is a surface that is sticky but not wet, so you can coat it in sugar, but the sugar won’t then dissolve and form a syrup that ends up clinging to everything (your worktop, your hair, your Rudolph jumper…).

It is also worth making sure you use the lowest heat possible for this recipe. It is very easy to burn, and the flavour of caramel might be delightful with salt, but it can ruin the fruity flavour of quince. Taking the slow approach will also allow you to control the final texture. My candy had a very firm but chewy texture, which I like, but you may prefer something softer.

So…after all that work…how was it? Frankly, I was terribly impressed with myself. This looked really great – each piece was very regular – and the flavour was  fantastic. It has that familiar honey-pear flavour and aromatic quality that you associate with quince, but as the mixture has been cooked for a long, long time, it is much more intense than membrillo you might have with cheese. I think getting a few of these after dinner or as a gift would be very much in keeping with the festive season. If you’re feeling creative, you could try to put the hot quince paste into small silicone moulds, or even just use a cutter to get different shapes before rolling in sugar.

Finally, I should just add that this recipe does make a lot of pieces of candy. I had about 80, all around the size of a walnut, so you might want to try a smaller batch unless you’re a real quince lover!

quincecandy1

 To make Quince Candy (around 80 pieces, depending on size)

• 4 large quinces
• juice of one lemon
• 300ml water
• granulated white sugar (plus extra for rolling)

Step 1: Prepare the quince pulp

1. Peel and de-core the quinces. Cut the flesh into chunks (I ended up with about 1.145kg of quince flesh from my four large quinces), discarding the peel and pips. Add the water and lemon juice, cover the pot and simmer until the quince is very tender and has a pink colour (at least 1 hour).

2. Mash the quince mixture so it looks like pulp and then pass through a sieve to remove any “stringy bits”. This might take a while, but keep at it and almost everything should go through the sieve. Discard anything that remains in the sieve, and you’ve got your quince puree!

Step 2: Make the Quince Candy

3. Measure the quince pulp by volume and put into a saucepan. For every 500ml of pulp, add 400ml of granulated sugar (i.e. 4:5 ratio of sugar to quince).

4. Prepare a non-stick baking tray ( at least 20 x 20cm/8 x 8 inches). Rub very lightly with a few dots of a neutral oil to prevent sticking.

5. Heat the mixture until the sugar dissolves. Cook over a gentle heat until the mixture darkens in colour and you can scrape the bottom of the pan – it should leave a trail for a few moments and not fall off a spoon. You can also test a few drops of the mixture on a cold plate – if it sets firmly, it’s ready. Initially, you can stir the mixture only every 15-20 minutes, but as the mixture reduces, you will need to stand over the pot and stir continuously (i.e. non-stop, otherwise it will burn!).

6. Once the quince mixture is ready, pour into the prepared tray and shake lightly to even the surface. Cover loosely with greaseproof paper and leave overnight to set and cool.

7. The next day, turn the quince candy slab out of the tin. Cut into pieces, and spread on a sheet of greaseproof paper and leave in a warm, dry place to dry out slightly. After a couple of days, roll each piece in more granulated sugar to finish.

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Pear and Almond Tart

Today is something of a fond farewell to autumn, for I’m off on holiday today, and when I get back, we should be in the early days of winter. Or put another way, I’ll be spending a couple of weeks in South Africa enjoying late spring in a particularly attractive part of the world. All in all, I’m pretty thrilled about that! Table Mountain, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, wine, beaches…what a perfect November!

Anyway, before that, a little autumnal treat from this side of the globe. I mentioned a few days ago that I’ve been really into pears this year. I’ve made pear jam, I’ve made pear crumble, I’ve made pear liqueur (again) and I used pears in a four-tiered birthday cake. I’ve made pear paste for cheese, and thrown them in salads with blue cheese and walnuts. All in all, a complete pear affair, but I think this little tart has really topped it all. It is one of those classic combinations of sweet, fragrant almond frangipane with pears, the lot glazed in apricot jam and looking oh-so-tempting as an after dinner treat. And the great thing is that it looks fancy but – shhhhhhhh – it’s really rather easy!

pearalmondtart

This tart looks fairly complex, but it actually a complete doddle to make. You really only need some decent sweet shortcrust pastry (use my recipe, use your own, or even just cheat and buy it – I get that some people have lives and need to do other things alongside impressing friends). The filling is just a case of mixing everything until smooth, and the only “tricky bit” is arranging the pear slices on top.

Now, in fairness, arranging those pear slices was a little trickier than I first thought. The trick is to cut the pear with a very sharp knife to get good, clean slices, then push everything so that it slides out into that fan shape. Then slide the knife under the pear fan, and carefully transfer onto the tart. It took me a couple of attempts to get it right, but nothing that you would not get the hang of very easily.

I have made a couple of little tweaks which depart slightly from the “classic” pear and almond tart, but I think that they really work. First, I spread a thin layer of pear and vanilla jam on the base. Thin, not great big spoonfuls of the stuff. It helps to add a little extra fruitness and sweetness at the bottom of the tart. I also mixed the jam with a couple of spoons of quince liqueur to add a little extra aromatic touch. If you’ve never tried it, I cannot tell you how good it is. Incredibly easy to make at home, and after a few weeks or months of resting, the result is a clear, golden liqueur that has a delicious apple-and-honey flavour. Second, I happened to have a bit of that pear liqueur left, so I added it to the apricot jam I used to glaze the tart, adding just an extra hint of fresh pear and spice to finish it off. A perfect little slice of autumn!

To make Pear and Almond Tart:

For the pastry

• 180g plain flour
• 65g unsalted butter, cold
• 65g icing sugar
• 2 egg yolks
• cold water

For the almond frangipane

• 100g ground almonds
• 50g caster sugar
• 70g unsalted butter
• 1 egg
• 1 egg white
• almond extract

For the pears

• almond frangipane (above)
• 2 tablespoons pear or apricot jam
• 3-4 ripe pears (depending on size)
• lemon juice

For the glaze

• 4 tablespoons apricot jam, sieved
• 1 tablespoon pear liqueur or brandy

1. Make the pastry – mix the flour and icing sugar, then work in the cold butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolks and cold water (a tablespoon at a time) until the mixture comes together. Wrap in cling film and chill for 30 minutes. Roll out and use to line a 20 cm (8 inch) loose-bottomed flan dish. Place in the fridge while you make the filling.

2. Preheat the oven to 180°C (360°F) and put a flat metal tray in the oven. This will help ensure the base cooks properly later on.

3. Make the filling – beat the butter until creamy, then add the sugar, almonds, egg and egg white, plus a few drops of almond extract. Watch out – the almond flavour stuff can be strong, so err on the side of caution!

4. Remove the tart shell from the fridge. Spread with the jam, then add the filling and smooth.

5. Prepare the pears – peel, core and cut in half. Rub each with a little lemon juice to prevent browning. Place each pear on a board, cut side down, and slice. Push from the thin end so that the pieces fan out. Slide a knife underneath, then transfer to the tart. Brush each with a little lemon juice so that the cut sides of pear do not discolour. Repeat until you have a giant pear star on your tart.

6. Bake the tart for 50-60 minutes until the filling has a good colour. It if looks like it is browning too quickly, cover loosely with tin foil and turn the temperature down a little.

7. Once the tart is cooked, remove from the oven and make the glaze by mixing the apricot jam with the brandy/pear liqueur. Brush over the warm tart and leave to cool.

Worth making? This looks fancy, but is actually fairly easy to make, and tastes great. I made it for a party, and it was the first tart to go completely, with people coming back for seconds, so I dare say that this is a pretty good recipe!

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{4} Panellets de Membrillo

You may (or, more likely, may not) wonder how I come up with my ideas for festive baking. In some cases, I’ve featured recipes from my travels. In other cases, it’s a simply case of typing something into Google, and seeing what comes up. I took the latter route to find today’s little treats. I’m just kicking myself it took me so long to find these little gems!

Panellets are almond confections that originate from Catalonia in Spain, the name meaning “little breads” in Catalan. They are incredibly easy to make – you just mix sugar, ground almonds and egg to make a simple marzipan, and then you can pretty much let your imagination run wild. They can be made with a range of flavours – rolled in nuts, made with chocolate or coffee, or filled with some sort of jam. One very popular and attractive version involves rolling balls of marzipan in egg white, rolling in pine nuts, and then brushing with egg white. The result looks superb, very much like Italian pignoli.

In the spirit of keeping this recipe very Spanish, I’ve flavoured these biscuits with membrillo, the classic quince paste eaten with Manchego cheese. It has a good, aromatic, fruity flavour, which is strong enough to balance the almond flavour of the biscuit. From what I have been able to work out, the traditional way to make these panellets de membrillo is to encase strips of membrillo in marzipan, then cut into slices. I just, well, didn’t bother, and went with a much simpler idea. This is the same technique for making thumbprint cookies, except you fill the dips with jam and bake it.

panellets

These biscuits are absolutely delicious, and I’m only sorry that I never saw them when I was in Barcelona last year! The next time I’m in that part of the world, I will definitely look out for a shop selling the full range!

The flavour is good, and the membrillo in the middle looks great and balances the nuttiness beautifully. If you’re not a quince fan, then go with something else equally bold – tangy marmalade, damson jam or candied cherries on top. Oh, but one little word of warning – paneletts have legal protection about how they are made and the ingredients they use. So if you’re making these for a bring-and-buy or flogging them in a cafe, be careful what you call them – imagine the shame of being arrested over a Christmas biscuit!

To make Panellets de Membrillo (makes 12):

• 170g ground almonds
• 130g icing sugar, plus extra to bind
• 1 medium egg, beaten
• 1/4 teaspoon almond extract, to taste
• caster sugar, to roll
• membrillo (quince paste)

1. Make the almond paste. Mix the almonds and icing sugar. Grind in a food processor to get the mixture as fine as possible. Mix with the beaten egg and almond extract, working to a smooth dough (you might need to add a few more tablespoons of icing sugar). Cover and leave to rest overnight.

2. Preheat the oven to 220°C (420°F) and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

3. Roll out the almond mixture into a long sausage. Cut into twelve equal pieces. Form each one into a ball, then roll in the caster sugar.  Arrange on the baking tray and flatten slightly. Use the end of a wooden spoon to make a dip in the centre of each biscuits.

4. Mash the membrillo into a paste, then fill the dips in each biscuits. Bake the panellets for 8-10 minutes until they are golden around the edges but not dark. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

Worth making? These biscuits are super-easy to make and the results are delicious! You can also adapt them really easily with different fillings on top, so a nice way to provide lots of flavours for minimal effort. The perfect cookie for the harassed Christmas cook!

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Slices of Quince

In Edward Lear’s famous poem The Owl and the Pussycat the protagonists chose to dine on mince and slices of quince. Whether or not this was a delicious combination (and as the owner/servant of two cats, I doubt that the quince was the highlight of that meal for the feline), there are better things to do with quince. Like today’s little idea – take those slices of quince, but skip the mince and steep them in alcohol, add a little sugar, and then leave the fruit to infuse the mixture. Incredibly simple!

quincevodka

Quince really is one of the strangest of fruits. They are nigh on impossible to eat when raw (but there are some varieties out there which will ripen into something soft and sweet), but cook the things and they change completely. The flesh will turn from yellowish-white to a pretty pink colour and you will be rewarded with rich, aromatic fruit. The simplest option is to poach some quince and enjoy with yoghurt, or add a slice or two to an apple pie for flavour. It’s also very happy in jams and jellies, or can be transformed into Spanish membrillo for the cheeseboard.

The particular quince that I got hold of was a handsome golden specimen. It had that distinctive aromatic quality to it, but it was, as expected, rock-hard. I bought mine at Borough Market, at what seemed to be an eye-popping price. I remembered seeing them at many of the Turkish shops in Stoke Newington, where they seemed to be cheap as chips. Ah well, we all pay for convenience, and I was not prepared to journey half-way across London on a weekend when various tube lines were suspended just to buy a quince. I just sat in the train on the way back home thinking to myself: This had better be worth it…

As for making this concoction, it’s really a breeze. However, this is something that will be hanging around the house for the next couple of months, and I was keen to check out the options to make it and have something that would look pretty. Things like damson or sloe gin look quite attractive as the fruit either floats (damsons) or sinks (sloes) in the steeping alcohol, the colour developing day by day. For quince, there seemed to be two main techniques. One suggested peeling the quince, then chopping it, mixing with sugar and leaving the lot for a month, then using the resulting syrup as the base for the liqueur. While this might have worked, this sounded like a bit of a faff, and I know that quince goes rather brown rather quickly…a jar of anonymous “brown” on the shelf was not too appealing. Another suggested just grating the whole quince – skin, pips and all – and then infusing that with vodka, plus a little sugar. This seemed more like it, but having grated quince in the past, it tends to be rather unattractive (mushy, tendency to go brown). And so, I had a brainwave. Rather than grating, I just sliced the quince very thinly, taking a few slices at a time and dropping them into the bottle and covering with alcohol. This stopped the quince going brown, and the resulting mixture also looked rather attractive.

So, I have added another jar to my collection of winter drinks. While I should say that I don’t know how this will be until I try it, I must confess that I did sneak an early taste after three days, and the flavour is coming along nicely. It is not too sweet as the proportion of sugar is fairly low, but the aromatic and honey-like quince flavour is developing.

To make quince vodka:

• 1 large quince (normally 400-500g)
• caster sugar (half the weight of the quince)
• 500ml vodka

1. Wash a 1 litre glass jar in hot, soapy water. Rinse well, and dry in the oven at around 100 degrees for 15 minutes. Leave to cool.

2. Slice the quince thinly. After cutting 4-5 slices, drop into the jar, and cover with vodka. Repeat until all the quince is sliced and the fruit is covered. Add as much of the sugar as you can, and then seal the jar (if you can’t add all the sugar, don’t worry – you can add more when the liqueur is ready in a few months).

3. Store the jars in a cool, dark place (the back of a cupboard is ideal). Shake the jars gently each morning and each evening for a week until the sugar is dissolved, then shake them twice per week for the next three weeks. Store for around three months. When ready, strain the liquer decant into a sterile bottle. At this point, you can add a little more sugar if needed.

Worth making? As with all of these “steep fruit in alcohol” recipes, only time will tell…but first indications are rather tasty!

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Poached Quince

Ever dreamed of being in an Edward Lear poem? Do you imagine yourself with a feline companion, drifting across the waves in a vessel while searching your luggage for a runcible spoon? If so, then this one will appeal to you…

I am a bit of a sucker for exotic things in stores, especially fruit. I feel the need to buy them, reasoning that I will surely be able to use them very easily. Needless to say, there can be a tendency for some of them to languish in the kitchen until I finally feel a bit guilty and then need to come up with a way to use them, often at short notice as something threatens to get rid of them...

So it was recently with a couple of quinces. They looked so pretty, so bright and yellow, and thus were of course a critical pre-Christmas purchase. They graced the festive fruit bowl, together with clementines and pomegranates, but in the last day or two, as the tree came down on Twelfth Night, they started to look a little forlorn. To make something with them, I thought I would keep it simple, and do something to highlight the colour and aromas of quince, that could be used with yoghurt and muesli in the mornings, or in the evenings as a simple dessert. Poach ’em!

This is a really simple recipe – peel, core and slice the fruit, then poach in a simple sugar syrup, with spices if you feel like it, but that is entirely optional. The flavour of quince is aromatic and delicate, so if you are minded to add a little extra something, then use a light hand. I added on (just one) clove and a piece of vanilla pod. The vanilla is delicate enough to work with the quince, and all the little flecks of black look rather cool. Like this:

What is sort of cool about quince is that it magically change colour when cooked. If you need proof, below are the slices of quince when first cut, and then after they have been poached for about an hour. They change from pale yellow to a pinky, peachy hue. Cook them even longer, and they will tend towards a deeper amber-red, if that’s your thing.

When you eat the poached quince, you also have a wonderful aromatic syrup. Either spoon this over the fruit, cook further (without the quince) to form a rich syrup, or use it as a syrup for ice cream, sorbets or drinks. It’s a New Year. Time to be creative!

To make poached quince:

• 2 quince, peeled, cored and sliced
• 200g white sugar
• 4 cups cold water
• spices according to taste (vanilla, cloves,
cardamom, cinnamon) (*)

Place the quince slices, sugar, water and spices (if using) in a saucepan. Bring to the boil, cover with a lid, then reduce the heat and simmer on a low heat for around an hour. When done, the quince turns pink and the syrup will be a little thicker.

Serve with cream, yoghurt or ice-cream as a pudding, or chopped with muesli for breakfast.

(*) Remember to use just a little – one clove or one pod of cardamom or just a bit of cinnamon…

Worth making? Yes! If you’re keen to try making something with quince, this recipe is both super-simple and yields great results.

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Quince Jelly

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 )
• lemons
• water
• 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.

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Quince Jam

Some fruit looks, smells and tastes delicious. Raspberries, strawberries, oranges…you can see why our ancestors went for them.

And then there are strange things like quince. While quince might look like pears, they have nearly rock-hard flesh and seem to be basically inedible raw. We had a quince tree in the house where I grew up, and it provided very decorative flowers but hard, inedible fruit (as a child, I discovered this quite quickly). So really, why bother? Well, apart from the delicate flowers in springtime, the secret is when you cook them – the flesh becomes soft, pink, fragrant and luscious.

I had a bit of a jam-making binge at the end of last year and had hoped to make quince jam then. However, there are no quince trees in Stokey that I know of, so I rely on the fruit in the local Turkish shops, and I missed the season. Then, a few days ago, I noticed that a box of golden quince had appeared on one fruit stall. I didn’t have time to buy them, but I kept thinking about going back. Today, I was there again and they still had a few quince fruits in stock. I found myself staring at seven of them in the fruit bowl, so what to do? More jam, obviously!

Given they are rock-hard, how do I know they are any good? Well, smell them. They have a floral pear-like smell when ripe. After sitting in the fruit bowl for a couple of hours, the whole living room was lightly infused with their perfume. On this basis, I took the plunge and assumed we were good to go.

But what was this jam going to be like? I am familiar with membrillo, the quince paste eaten with cheese in Spain, and it is a dark red colour. So how does the fruit go from creamy to red? “Magic” seems about right. I see a glimpse of this in preparing the fruit. Making the jam involves grating the quince, and it promptly went a rather unappealing brown. Was this supposed to happen? I was expecting a shift to pink or red, so a switch from light cream to brown was more than a little alarming. Ah, but then you boil the fruit, and you see the promised magic start. The brown vanished and the flesh went back to a delicate pale yellow. The aroma of quince filled the kitchen, and once I added the sugar, it turned slowly but surely to a rich pink-orange colour. Then it was just a matter of boiling, boiling, boiling until the jam hit the jelling point.

Now that I’ve made it, I am very happy I did. I love it. The fruit has gone translucent and a deep peach colour, but even after a long time on the stove, the fruit has kept some of its texture. The flavour is similar to pear, but richer with more depth, and notes of caramel and orange. Certainly a nice change from ubiquitous strawberry or raspberry. I’ve read that the colour will also change with time, deepening to more of a reddish-amber, and I would therefore expect there to be some change to the flavour too. It will be interesting to see how it “matures”, so watch out for Quince Jam Part II.

Overall, the result is fruity and aromatic rather than just another sweet jam. This would be the perfect companion to scones or on a flaky, buttery croissant…so guess what’s for breakfast on Saturday morning?

To make the jam (makes around 7 large jars):

• 2kg grated quince (6-7 fruits), washed thoroughly
• 1 litre of water
• 1kg sugar (750g sugar is you prefer a less sweet jam)
• zest of 1 lemon
• juice of 1/2 lemon

Wash the fruit, and grate it. There is no need to peel, just keep going until you get to the core (but obviously, don’t grate the core).

Put the water into a large heavy-bottomed pot, and bring to the boil. Add the quince, lemon zest and the lemon juice. Reduce the heat, and simmer the mixture until the fruit is tender (approximately 10-15 minutes).

Now add the sugar and stir with a wooden spoon until dissolved. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and cook on a medium heat until the jam reaches the setting point (this can take a while – up to an hour – but keep checking and stirring regularly to be sure that the jam does not burn on the bottom of the pan). Once the jam is ready, put into sterilised jars.

Worth making? Yes yes yes! This jam really does not involve much more than preparing the fruit, cooking it long enough to reach the setting point and putting into jars. The flavour and colour are both elegant and really quite unlike the sort of jam that you usually see, so it makes a really nice addition to the store cupboard.

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