Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Quince O'clock

Alas, I had to leave my Pineapple Quince tree behind when I left the MKG.  I planted it two years ago and it has yet to set fruit- I bet 2012 will be the year.  I had never eaten quince when I planted it, but it's a perfect backyard tree because you don't find quinces at the store very often.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I came across beautiful, fragrant, perfectly ripe quinces at an organic fruit and produce store in Glasgow!  Quinces have a wonderful "ugly duckling" quality about them- they look like the lumpy lovechild of a pear and an apple.  Looks are not what quince has going for it.  But the fragrance!  I can't begin to describe what an amazingly aromatic fruit quince is.  After we brought them home, every time we walked into the kitchen we could smell them through the cupboard door.

The quinces I found in the store smelled too heavenly to pass up.  I picked up four (which was almost exactly 1 kilogram of fruit) and brought them home to turn into quince jelly.  I searched around the internet and found quite a few recipes- in the end I decided to trust Marisa of Food in Jars as the expert of the day.  After all, that woman has canned more jams, jellies and whatnots than most of America combined.  Her recipe only called for quince, lemon juice, sugar and water so it sounded like just what I was after.

I chopped up the quince and put them on the stove with water to boil... and boil... and boil... I kept topping up the water and stirring some more.  In the end, it took around 3 hours for the dastardly quince to cook down enough that I could mash them, stuff them in some cheesecloth, and drain out the juice.  At least the kitchen (and the whole flat, actually) smelled amazing during those three hours.

After separating out the juice, I measured it (for proportions with the recipe - I had 4.5 cups) and put it in the fridge to turn into jelly another day.  I also saved the quince pulp, as Marisa suggested, and plan to make it into an apple-quince-sauce.

When I felt rested and ready to tackle the jelly stage, I added sugar and lemon juice to the quince juice and let it bubble away on the stove.  I don't have my candy thermometer (currently it's on a ship somewhere between California and Scotland) so I used the cold plate method.  You place a small plate in the freezer to get very cold.  Then, when you want to test your gel, you dollop a small amount of jam onto the plate and push it with the tip of your finger.  If the jam oozes and spreads around, it's not ready.  If it wrinkles, you're good to go.  It took me about 3 or 4 tests before it looked like I had achieved jam (rather than syrup).

Normally, this would be the point at which I'd can the jelly.  However, the canning pot, jars, et cetera are on the aforementioned ship.  Therefore I just poured the jelly into two very clean jars, let them cool down on the counter overnight, and placed them in the refrigerator. 

Recipes always say that you should consume refrigerator jams within a week, but I think that's just silly.  I often have jars of jam open for months in my refrigerator and they are just fine.  The amount of sugar in them is one hell of a preservative.  However, I am also the Jam Contamination Police.  Plain old jam shouldn't mold because of all that sugar.  BUT, if someone puts a butter-covered knife into the jam jar... the butter and crumbs could mold.  As a result, I always have a teaspoon for the jam, and a knife for the butter, and never the twain shall meet.

I plan to enjoy the quince jelly on buttered toast, as well as in a (several) Manchego and quince grilled cheese sandwich(es).  There may also be some quince jelly and goat cheese crostini in the future, who knows?  I am just really looking forward to enjoying a fruit that I thought I had to leave behind.

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