A Recipe for Quince Jelly


Quince Jelly

Quinces are a strange fruit with a history going back to antiquity. A kind of apple/pear they are knobbly and knurled with a grey furry coating, not very pretty to look at and not really edible raw. The kind of fruit you might expect to grace the fruit bowl of any self-respecting witch.

Jelly made from quinces, though, is quite extraordinary. It has an exquisite pink colour, a wobbly texture and a flavour that tempts you to spread it as thickly as you dare on that slice of toast and the diet can start tomorrow, which is the best time to start any diet.

We have two quince trees and for the first two years I let the fruit become blackened, withered corpses to haunt the trees until the following season. This year however I decided to have a go at making the well-known but unsung quince jelly. Am I glad I did!

I found recipes on the Internet and adapted them. My first batch turned out just right and I discovered I had made delicate translucently pink nectar that had the ability to cast a spell over anyone that tasted it!

Here is the method I use. By all means experiment for your own tastes until you get it just the way you want. I'll add some pointers at the end to help you judge what can or can't be done. This method calls for the jelly to be made in two stages with at least 24 hours between. The first stage is extracting the quince flavour to make the syrup. The second stage is making the jelly from that syrup. I've highlighted the main steps in case you want to flit over the unessential detail.

OK then, in addition to the quinces you need 2 large lemons, sugar and a stick of cinnamon. I'll specify the quantities for a reasonable sized first batch, then you can scale up or down as you want. If you have them, stainless steel utensils are best - a large pot at least 5 litres capacity preferably more, a large steel spoon, a masher and a ladle. You will also need something to strain the juice from the mash. A muslin is preferable but I have also used a sieve. Due to the high acidity, metal sieves can start to rust or discolour, so a plastic one is best.

Stage 1

Start heating two litres of water in the pot. Scrape the zest off one of the lemons, and cut this into fine strips and add them to the water. (The zest is best taken off with a sharp potato peeler.) Add the juice of 2 lemons to the pot.

Take 2 kilos of quinces. Wash them and rub the fur off (best done with a paper towel). Cut them into chunks about an inch across. Don't remove the skins, cores or seeds. These all contain the pectin that will help the jelly to set. You shouldn't need to use any additional setting agent.

Cut out any damaged bits but you can retain the good parts. Any fruit that have mildewed cores should be discarded entirely as the mildewed flavour may have permeated the whole fruit and not worth taking the chance on spoiling the jelly.

When the water is boiling add the fruit to the pot. Add a couple of pieces of cinnamon bark, about 2 to 3 inches in all, no more. I feel that cinnamon should be a flavour that's perceptible but not identifiable. It shouldn't be obvious and it shouldn't dominate the overall flavour of the jelly. Better to add less than more. You can always increase the cinnamon flavour in the second stage if you want.

Partially cover the pot and let it simmer away until the fruit is soft and can be easily mashed. This can take up to an hour. Top up with hot water as necessary to maintain the original volume. The liquid will have started to take on a pink colour. Mash the fruit and let it simmer for another 10 minutes then turn off the heat.

If you're using a muslin, place it over a large bowl and tie it around the brim. Ladle the fruit mash into the muslin or sieve so that the juice drains into the bowl. Avoid pressing the mash through the muslin as this will only haze the final jelly. Cover with a kitchen towel and let it drain on its own. There will be too much mash to do this in a single batch so split it into portions as practical. Each portion will take about a half hour to drain thoroughly. Don't discard the mash as yet though. The liquid should go into a jug of at least 2 litres capacity, preferably one that can fit into your fridge and with a lid.

The mash left from this first draining should still have some flavour in it, so put it back into the pot, add some boiling water and let it seep through the mash. Prop the pot in a tilted position and spoon out the liquid as it seeps through. This second stage can increase the liquid by as much as 50%.

You should now have a jug of 1 ½ to 2 litres of pink fluid. Cover and leave it in the fridge to settle for 24 hours before going on to Stage 2.

Stage 2

OK, that's the mundane stuff done, now we get onto the exciting stage of making the jelly.

Measure the liquid and pour it into the pot and heat. For each litre of liquid measure out 1 Kg of sugar. Jam sugar is best if you can get it, but not absolutely necessary. Heat the sugar in a microwave. Let the liquid boil for about 10 minutes then add the heated sugar and bring back to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally. Don't cover the pot.

From time to time spoon off any scum that forms on the surface and give the liquid a stir to make sure it's not catching on the bottom of the pan.

After about half an hour of simmering you'll have to start watching carefully for the setting point. This gets easier with experience but essentially you're watching for the liquid to take on a sheen when it almost starts to glisten. From time to time you should put a few drops of the liquid onto a saucer or the steel ladle and when cool check if the surface becomes wrinkled when pushed with a fingertip. As soon as this happens turn off the heat. The jelly might still seem a bit runny but if you see the wrinkling then it should be ready.

That's it then. Pour into sterilised jars while the liquid is hot. Glass can take a lot of heat but not if its localized. I try and reduce the risk of shattering by ladling in a little hot liquid and quickly swirling it around the jar. Leave a little gap at the top of the jar, cover with greaseproof paper and screw on the lid tightly. As the hot pocket of air cools, it will form a partial vacuum. Avoid tilting the jars, as the jelly will not set fully until it is totally cool.

Quinces start being ready for plucking from late September onwards, so you should be ready to start bottling your magic in time to cast some spells at Halloween!

Additional notes

A kilo of sugar per litre seems an awful lot and by all means cut down on this, but remember the less sugar you use the longer it will take to reach setting point. This has two consequences. More liquid will boil off so you'll end up with less jelly. Too much boiling will result in a darkening of the colour to a deep purple. The jelly will still taste delicious but you could lose the delicate pink colour.

The lemon juice is essential to add that tangy taste without which the jelly could have an overly sweet, cloying taste.

In either of the stages, if liquid gets caught on the bottom avoid scraping it off as this will impart a burnt flavour to the jelly, and any scrapings in the second stage will leave bits of flotsam to mar clarity of the final jelly.

To sterilize jars wash them thoroughly then dry for at least 20 minutes upturned in an oven set to 100C. The same for the lids.

If the bottled jelly has not set by morning you can always put it back in the pan and boil it some more until it has reached the setting point. I must confess to having had to do this on a couple of occasions in the past. Some recipes mention using a jam thermometer but I've never used one myself so I can't comment.