Hard as a rock, covered in a strange waxy fuzz, smelling so strongly of roses infused with pears and apples, the quince is one of the last orchard fruits to ripen.  Uwajimaya, the huge asian grocery a few blocks from my flat, had several tossed in alongside the Bartletts and Boscs a few weeks ago, and I was reminded of the quince bush we found at the back of the property my dad bought after the divorce.  It was a short stunted shrub and bore a lone fruit, first green, then gradually turning yellow.  None of us thought to do anything with it.  I bought 3, determined to do something with them.

The only other time I recall encountering quince was in 1999, touring around South Australia, on the way to Adelaide for the second ever Tasting Australia event, stopping at every winery we came across, and finding Maggie Beer’s quince paste in one of the cellar door shops, somewhere in the Barossa.  Eating it that evening with some King Island Roaring 40s blue was memorable, in a long two weeks of memorable food and drink.

Rather than paste, I decided to try my hand at quince jam.  I washed and roughly cut my three knobby treasures into quarters and simmered them – cores, peels and all – barely covered in water until they turned a salmon pink.  Draining the fruit chunks, but saving the cooking water, I cut out the cores and woodiness near the stem ends and coarsely pureed the fruit through a food mill.  I added 1/2 the weight of the puree in granulated sugar, mixed in a cup of water and about a teaspoon of lemon juice and stood stirring the thick heavy glop over medium heat for about 45 minutes.  This rewarded me with approximately 3 cups of delicious stuff, more a conserve than a jam, but excellent spread on bread or toast, or mixed into hot cereal.

Quince jam tastes like you’d want roses to taste, if you ate them.

I immediately started looking for a farm source for quince – surely someone still grew them, in this apple-focused part of the country.  I turned up a U-Pick source over near Sequim, but hers were still not ripe.  Dog Mountain Farm was the next potential source I came upon, and a quick phone call on Sunday morning confirmed yes, they had quince and yes, they were open.  We came home with a 20-lb box of fragrant beauties, a dozen duck eggs, 2 goose eggs, and two packed-to-the-brim shopping bags full of beets and greens besides.

Produce and eggs from Dog Mountain Farm

Produce and eggs from Dog Mountain Farm

The recipe I’d found for jam mentioned that the quince was so high in pectin, the water from the first cooking could easily be turned into jelly.  My first attempt had me questioning “easy” – initially I had about 3 cups of partially set jelly.  It was mainly syrup really, with some encouraging jelled bits at the top.  I researched the possibility of remaking it and found that maybe if I added some additional lemon juice for acidity, and boiled it back up again to the “sheet” or “spoon drip” stage, it would be fine.

“Sheet” or “spoon drip” are not as easy to spot as the classic “soft ball” stage.  Plus, on reboiling, the stuff just wanted to foam up and boil out of the pan.  I kept at it, until the “syrup dripped as 2 drips from the side of the spoon, joining together to make a thin sheet”.  Uh huh.  I now had 2 cups of dark rosy pink potential jelly.  In the morning when I tried to spread it on toast, the top was a rock hard crust and underneath was a solid mass of gummy, chewy quince goo.

Quince Jelly

Quince Jelly

Undaunted, I went at it again today.  But first, I bought a digital food thermometer with a range from -45 F to 450 F.  Supposedly, syrup will jell once it is boiled up to 220 F.  I had processed about 15 lbs of quince on Sunday into jam, and had 12 cups of pale pinkish cooking liquid remaining.  I processed it as 4 cup batches, using 4 cups of liquid, 3 cups of sugar, and a teaspoon of lemon juice.  It boiled up easily to 220 F, and I skimmed off the white foam that formed from the boiling and decanted each batch into sterilized jars, then gave them a 5 minute boiling water bath to seal them.

The jars look great, but I don’t think they are actually going to jell – if not, I’ll decant and reboil it all tomorrow.

Update:  I had to add some acid and remake the jelly.  Here’s a shot of not enough, too much, and just right:

syrup, goo, jelly (jam in the background)

Quince: syrup, goo, jelly (jam in the background)



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2 Responses to “Quince”

  1. Chris Says:

    To suggest that quince “ripens” is surely generous.

  2. Jaq Says:

    Well, true. It’s not like they soften, or get juicy, but they do turn yellow and grow more fragrant. And then, they rot.

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