Saturday, October 31, 2009

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.

the recipe:
-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

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At November 1, 2009 at 1:58 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lovely post_ I adore quince, though mine
usually end up rotting as table decorations ;-)

At November 1, 2009 at 2:19 PM , Blogger Ellen Zachos said...

Thanks Julie, Leave it to a Brit to appreciate the quince. I don't know why it's not more popular here but it should be!

At November 2, 2009 at 7:53 AM , Blogger Mum said...

You never fail to entertain me. Quince jelly, hurrah! But, didn't I ever tell you about lemon juice after blueberry pie? If not, I have failed.

At November 3, 2009 at 8:45 AM , Blogger Marie said...

Wow, gorgeous, delicate colour...I think it's the best-tasting jelly. I adore quinces, mostly for their scent.

My friend Mr Christie (who ran a wonderful Turkish restaurant for many years, and who made a deep burgundy-coloured quince desert there) tells me to cook the peeled quince halves or slices with the seeds and peel, for the red colour. It works, but I'm not sure at what point the lemon might reverse that?

At November 3, 2009 at 5:14 PM , Anonymous Mark Hardy said...

Ah, noble quester! I love that you persevered and triumphed - no surprise to me there. Maybe if I'm really, really, really very good all year you'll let me try a tiny spoonful. Hell, I'll trade a whole jar of paw paw chtuney for a taste. it sounds marvelous.

Congrats! You are the jelly queen.

At November 3, 2009 at 8:03 PM , Blogger Ellen Zachos said...

Mark, if I can't save you a jar of jelly (and I WILL try, but when will I see you?), we can at least share a piece of toast when next we meet.

Marie, you're right, the scent is extraordinary. I packed the fruit in the car the night before we drove back from NH and the next morning the car smelled heavenly!

At November 4, 2009 at 3:06 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have also made quince jam this year for the first time. Next year I will try famous quince cheese
This is my recipe:

At November 4, 2009 at 2:42 PM , Blogger leedav said...

I am a quince fan. I have read and tested the theory that you need to cook the quince with sugar in order t get the red color.

At November 4, 2009 at 5:38 PM , Blogger Ellen Zachos said...

Hi Leedav, I did indeed cook the quince with sugar.

Vrtlarica, I'm going to add my jelly recipe to the bottom of this post. Please let me know how your quince cheese turns out.

At November 6, 2009 at 3:04 PM , Anonymous Leda Meredith said...

Interesting about the lemon juice preventing the color from developing. The last batch of quince jelly I made turned out well, but that was a long time ago and alas I didn't keep track of the recipe. Yours looks gorgeous!

At November 11, 2009 at 12:00 AM , Blogger molly said...

loving all the food of late here on the ole down and dirty!


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