Each year the performance of my one quince tree is somewhere on a scale from ‘too many to know what to do with’ to ‘utterly overwhelming’. This year it’s off the scale. Every breath of wind brings an avalanche of dangerously firm golden fruit. So I’ve been flailing about in a desperate seach for things to do with my harvest.
Of course I’m making jelly and compote and my winter stalwart cotognata. But I’ve also been seeking inspiration on Levantine recipe sites, Cydonia oblonga being a very near-eastern fruit. The recipe below is an amalgam of several.
Quinces – 4 kg
Sugar – 2 kg
Scented pelargonium (geranium) leaves – sprig
Lemons – 2
Cinnamon – to taste
Cloves – 5 or 6
Squeeze the juice of the two lemons into a large bowl, throw the lemon skins in there too, then add cold water – about eight mugs full. Now peel and core the fruit, throwing the pieces (quarters are easiest) into the bowl of lemon water as you go.
When you’ve worked your way through the whole pile of fruit, transfer some of the lemon water into a heavy-bottomed saucepan, and grate the quince pieces into this saucepan, using the larger holes of a regular grater. As the grated fruit mounts up, transfer more lemon water into the saucepan: the important thing is to keep both the chunks and the grated fruit covered so that oxidization doesn’t turn the quince brown.
When all the fruit and all the lemon water is in the saucepan (best to leave the lemon skins in the mix: the peel and membranes release extra pectin), add a 6-7cm length of cinnamon stick (or a teaspoon or so of powdered cinnamon), the cloves and the scented geranium leaves. There are many variations of these last: you really want one that is vaguely lemony or rosy, rather than smelling of menthol etc.
Slowly bring everything towards the boil, then add the sugar, stirring until it’s all dissolved. (Note that I like my jams very tart. You may wish to use anything up to 4 kg of sugar if you prefer something sweeter.) Now let the mix bubble away until it reaches gelling point (105°C/220°F at sea level; one degree less for every 100m above). This may be 90 minutes or two hours (less if you’ve used more sugar). If the heat is low, it will bubble for ages and you can get away with stirring from time to time; if it’s higher things move more quickly but you’ll need to stir it frequently, keeping a wire mesh splash guard between you and flying bits of scalding liquid, and remembering that explosive pockets of air may have formed under the fruity mush. If you don’t stir, it will turn to burnt toffee at the bottom of the pot.
Temperature is the best way to gauge when this jam is ready because the juice that appears to be swilling around the fruit pieces in rather too liquid a fashion when it’s hot really will set to a proper jam consistency as it cools. But you will also notice (a) that the bubbles rising look increasingly glue-ier, and (b) that the mix turns a glorious dark amber colour.
Ladle the hot jam into sterilised jars, put the lids on tightly and store in a dark cupboard until you need it. These quantities should produce about 3.5 kg of jam.
©Anne Hanley, 2019