Sunday, 13 October 2013

Quintessentially Quince

Let's have a break from the hot chilli stuff for a moment and turn our attention to something more subtle, fragrant and less well known; the quince.
I am very familiar with this strange, mysterious fruit as my parents had a quince tree in the garden when I was growing up.  We would have the annual ritual of harvesting the quince in autumn followed by the annual ritual of my grandmother making jars and jars of quince jam which would last into the winter and beyond.  I loved it and have missed it in latter years.  The tree sadly got diseased and died and quince just simply isn't one of those fruits that you come across in shops very often.  It had become nothing more than a childhood memory.
So imagine my delight when my parents mentioned that their local fruit farm were growing them and offered to pick and bring some down on their recent visit.   Their offer was of course mutually beneficial as they knew that they would then leave with a few jars of jam in return.  I had inherited my grandmothers skills and motivation to ensure a good stock of preserved goodies for the long winter ahead; something that only lived on in me within our family it seemed.
On receipt of the aforementioned harvest of quince I set about a traditional quince jam session and within the hour had produced half a dozen jars.  With an ample supply of fruits still left I continued over the next few days with various recipes including baked quince, quince marmalade and currently cooking away on the stove; quince chutney.   I could sit back now, smug in the knowledge that nothing had gone to waste and childhood had indeed been captured in various jars to enjoy and share over the coming months.
It definitely brought out the squirrel and the child in me.
Quince Jam
Makes about 6 jars
4 large quinces (about 1kg)
Juice of 1 lemon
Sugar (see details below of how much)
1.  Peel and core the quinces CAREFULLY as they are pretty hard!  I managed to slice a fair amount of the skin of one of my thumbs doing this (but then I am pretty clumsy).  Chop into small bits (the quince not your thumb).
2.  Put the chopped quince into a pan and cover with water.  Simmer until nice and soft.
3.  Once cooked, measure how much quince you have.  For every cup of quince pulp measure out 250g sugar.
4.  Put the pulp, sugar and lemon juice back in the pan and heat slowly, stirring to help the sugar dissolve.  Mysteriously it starts to go red at this stage.
5.  Once the sugar is dissolved, turn the heat up a bit and let the mixture boil (watch out for it spitting as it hurts when it lands on your skin).
6.  Whilst the above is going on, do two things - firstly pop a saucer in the freezer (I've not gone mad - I'll explain in a moment).  Secondly, sterilise your jars.  To do this I normally just fill the jars with boiling water, leave for a few minutes and then empty and air dry.
7.  Now it's time to test the jam to see if it is ready.  Get that random frozen saucer out of the freezer and put a small blob of the jam mixture on it.  Leave it for a couple of minutes and then push it with your finger across the saucer.  If it wrinkles up then the jam is ready.  If it just fluidly pushes away from your finger, give it some more cooking.
8.  Once it is ready, simply jar it up, label and enjoy.

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