Monday 20 May 2013

The Quintessential Quince 2: Quince Paste, Jelly, and Pickle

The jelly- the Jam and the marmalade,
And the cherry and quince "preserves'' she made!
And the sweet-sour pickles of peach and pear,
With cinnamon in 'em, and all things rare--!
And the more we ate was the more to spare,
Out to Old Aunt Mary's!
~ James Whitcomb Riley, Old Aunt Mary's. 

I read an hilarious article the other day that analysed why Gwyneth Paltrow seems to be the celebrity that people love to hate at the moment.  In a nutshell, it's pretty much because she's drop dead beautiful, filthy rich, talented at acting, writes cookbooks, has gorgeous children, famous friends, and a hugely successful business.  It's just so thoroughly unlikable that there is nothing this woman is not good at.    Dreadfully tall poppy I know but there it is.  Us mere mortals have to contend with having lots of things we are not good at.

Of the many things I suck at, singing in particular has never been a strong suit.

As a kid, when I was into tap dancing competitions, there was one routine where I had to sing and dance at the same time.  What I lacked in on tune-ness, I made up for in loudness.  I remember axe-murdering those high notes so loudly and so badly, my dancing teacher had to stifle belly laughs.  Yes, I would've been one of those auditions on the X Factor.

Another thing I've never been good at is jam making. When I got given these gorgeous quinces from Catherine at work, I had imagined spending a sunny afternoon channeling domestic goddesses of old like Old Aunt Mary, lovingly stirring pots of gorgeous ruby red quince paste and jewel-like crystal clear quince jelly.  How it ended up was with me standing over an angry spitting pot of liquid hot quince magma at 2am in the morning that refused to set.  Delicious tasting mind you, but less paste or jelly like and more what you would imagine hot molten lava to look like: a cloudy, lumpy, muddy red gloop. 

{The good quince jelly, the bad quince jelly}

Luckily, Jam Master Duncan of NZ Food Historian helped me out of a pickle and very generously spent hours teaching me the age old art of jam and jelly making.  And an art it most definitely is: you can really only tell when a jam is set when it has set.  Philosophical no? Someone should make that into a bumper sticker.  There are no time frames you can put on it, there are barely even recipes, it's all ratios and eye balling and getting a feel for it.  All a bit daunting for a brand new, slightly anal-retentive, jam maker but infinitely intriguing.  And when you get that Aha! setting moment, you feel like you've joined some exclusive historic society of successful jam makers.  Definitely worth the slaving over a hot stove.

 {we're jammin'}

After our marathon quince jelly and quince paste jammin' sessions, I got so hooked on preserves making I went a little bit nuts and made pickled quinces, roasted quinces, poached quinces and marmalade.  Needless to say our pantry is now jam-packed with, well, jam.

For the quince paste and jelly, it isn't so much a recipe as it is a formula.  There are three important aspects to getting a good set: the amount of sugar, the amount of heat and the amount of acidity.  The amount of sugar you use depends on the amount of quince you have. The amount of lemon juice you use is all in the taste.  And the amount of heat is not just about getting it over 105oC, you still need to keep testing it for the setting point.  Sounds airy fairy and it is a little, but it's a sweet eureka moment when it all comes together!  A moment to relish even.

And that folks is the last of the quincey posts so back to less labourious recipes next post!

Quince paste 

White sugar

1. Wipe off the fur from the quinces and wash.  Cut out the cores (reserve the cores) and cut the quince into chunks (skins on).  Place the chunks of quince into a big stock pot and add water to almost cover but not quite.  The less water the quicker it will be to cook down.

2. Bring the pot to a boil and boil until the quinces are soft and just coming apart.  They will still look kind of yellowy at this stage, this is ok, they will change colour later on in the process.

3.  Pass the quince chunks through a seive with a rubber spatula or through a food mill to make get smooth-ish pulp.  Weigh the pulp and add the same weight of sugar as you have pulp e.g. for every 500g pulp, you add 500g white sugar.

4.  Place the weighed sugar and quince pulp back into the pot and bring to the boil on high.  Let it bubble on high, stirring frequently.  You don't have to stir it as much to start off with but later on you have to stir almost constantly to stop it catching at the bottom.  As it is boiling, start by adding the juice from half a lemon then taste a little (careful it's hot!).  It should be pleasantly tart.  Add more lemon juice if required.  Be careful when it is bubbling as it spits a little and is really hot!

5. There are a few signs that let you know when it is done:
  • the pulp has gone over 105oC degrees consistently,
  • the spoon leaves a clear furrow at the bottom of the pot, 
  • the pulp becomes a rich ruby colour, and
  • put a plate in the freezer to get really cold. Place a blob on a plate and let it cool down in the fridge.  If the blob sets to a semi solid / paste like consistency it is done!
6. Pour into sterilsed jars (instructions at the end of the post).  You can oil the jars as well to help with turning the paste out later but this is optional.  Seal tightly.   The paste is best if you leave it for 3 months to mature before serving.  Will be best around 6 months and will keep for up to 2 years.  Gorgeous with cheeses like brie and sharp cheddars.

Quince Jelly
The cores from the quince paste
A few more whole quinces
White sugar 
Cheese cloth

1. Rub of the fur to the extra quinces and chop into chunks, core and all.  Put the chopped up quinces with the cores you set aside from the quince paste into a big pot.  Fill with water, but not quite covering - the less the better.  Boil on high until the quinces are soft and starting to come apart.

2.  Place the cooked quince cores and pieces into a cheese cloth bag and hang the bag over a clean pot to catch the juice.  Leave overnight.

3. The next day, measure out the amount of juice by volume and add the corresponding weight in sugar e.g. for 1 L of juice add 1kg of sugar.   Add lemon juice to taste.

4. Boil the juice and sugar until it reaches 105oC degrees, is a ruby colour and sets when put on a plate that's been cooled in the freezer.  As it is boiling, skim off any bubbly scum that floats to the surface.

5. Pour into sterilised jars (instructions at the end of the post).  Keep in jars for 3 months until opening.  It is delicious just on toast or used with sponge cake or shortbread cookie sandwiches.

Pickled Quinces
based on Nigel Slater, Maggie Beer, Delia Smith
1 kg of small quinces
750ml apple cider vinegar
400g white sugar
6 cloves
8 allspice berries
1 bay leaf
18 peppercorns
1 stick cinnamon

1. Heat vinegar in a non-corrosive pan, add sugar, allspice berries, cloves, bay leaf, peppercorns and cinnamon and bring to a gentle boil.  Turn heat down to a simmer.

2. Peel and quarter the quinces.  Cut out the cores.  Put in to the simmering pan of vinegar.  Depending on how big your quarters are simmer for 10-20 minutes until you can poke a skewer through a piece easily.

3. Scoop up the quinces pieces and arrange in a sterilised air-tight jar (how to sterilise jars below).  Arrange the spices in to the jars too to make them look pretty.  Fill the jars with the vinegar to cover the quinces and seal leave to cool completely.  Store at room temperature.  According to Delia they will keep well for 6 months and according to Maggie Beer are best to eat after leaving them for a few weeks.  Goes lovely with cheese, cold roast meats, pork, duck and game.

How to sterilise jars
Mason jars (with the two part lids)
an oven
boiling water or a clear alcohol like gin or vodka

Take the lids off the jars and put the flat parts all together in a bowl.  Pour boiling water or gin/vodka over the top. 

Wash the glass part of the jars.  Leave them a little wet (the humidity helps kill bacteria more efficiently).  Put the jars in cold oven.  Turn heat to 120oC.  When the oven comes to temperature the jars are sterilised.

Use the jars while they are hot (watch your fingers!).  Shake off any excess liquid before putting the lids on the jars when filled with jam.

Click here for recipe for Maple Chardonnay Slow Roasted Quinces.


  1. Looks great! Such beautiful photography too! x

  2. fabulous detailed post! hats off - i'm not game to launch into the world of jam making just yet. my mother is too good at it.
    i'm sure your 'bad' quince jelly still tasted fabulous? over ice cream, porridge?



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