oh lovely quince, oh golden apple
I don't like to be thwarted.
A few years ago my friend Elspeth mailed me a box of quinces from Santa Fe. I'd been fascinated by the fruit, its weirdness and its mythological significance, for years. Greek mythology says a quince was the golden apple that started the Trojan War when Paris gave it to Aphrodite, the fairest of them all.
I'd never cooked with quinces before; they aren't a common fruit. They're fuzzy and hard, if not as a rock than at least as an uncooked acorn squash. So how to use them? After hours perusing a passel of vintage recipe books, I decided on quince jelly. It's a classic traditional jelly, well served with cheese and biscuits...or so they say.
Dismal failure. I don't know what I did wrong but it didn't jell and never assumed the Florentine red color for which quince jelly is famous. Nor do I remember the flavor as being anything exceptional...only vaguely sweet. Thwarted.
Last weekend I bought a bag of quinces from Cranky Man in NH. (Sarah, what IS the man's NAME?!) Why, because I have a reputation to uphold, dammit, and I was determined to make a successful quince jelly. I reviewed my old recipe books, then checked pages of on-line recipes. I immediately discarded any recipe that included pectin. Quince has more naturally-occurring pectin than most fruits...plenty for making jelly without adding more.
My quandary was the lemon juice. Lemon is often added to jellies/jams; it's the balance of sugar, acidity, and pectin, cooked for the correct amount of time, that makes jelly jell. Get the amounts wrong and over/under cook the mixture and you've got syrup or fruit cheese. Either way the cognoscenti know you've failed because let's face it, no one starts out trying to make syrup or fruit cheese.
But back to the lemons. At least half the recipes called for lemon juice, but at least half also required commercial pectin, and we KNOW that's wrong. Then I found a recipe that explained how lemon juice would inhibit the development of the famous red color. The author said the red color is the result of oxidation, and citric acid impedes that oxidation. THAT made sense to me! (People squirt lemon juice on apple slices to prevent discoloration.) Yet I feared that leaving out the lemon might result in non-jelled jelly...again. I tasted the quince juice, hoping it would be so tart I'd be comfortable leaving out the acid. Nope.
Decision time: I left out the lemon juice, crossed my fingers, and started to stir. Here's where a picture is worth a thousand words:
It's not just that the color is captivating and the clarity worthy of a blue ribbon...the taste is spectacular: half apple, half pear, delicate and not too sweet. I'm sending one jar to Elspeth (whose crop this year was damaged by hail) but I may keep the rest for myself and Michael.
I'm greedy, but I'm not thwarted.
-cut the quinces into 8ths, leaving in the seeds & skins & cores
-put in large pan and add water to cover fruit by about an inch
-simmer 45 minutes, till soft, then mash with potato masher and remove from heat
-allow to cool, then strain overnight through jelly bag; do not squeeze the jelly bag!
-measure quince juice and return to pan
-add 3/4 cup sugar for each cup juice
-bring to a boil, stirring regularly so jelly doesn't stick
-remove from heat after passing your own personal jelling test (two drops into one, wrinkled skin on a freezer plate, candy thermometer, etc.)
-pour into jars and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes