From M., 24 February 2011, quince jelly – same old, same old?

Q: It is almost quince harvesting time here in South Australia. I always turn my fruit into quince jelly, and very goood it is tooo. I am now looking for variations on quince jelly, can you help?

A: Thanks for your question. I appreciate the questions from the other side of the world – in the States, we don’t eat a lot of quince (or its products), and that’s a shame. One of the reasons for this may be that quince isn’t the kind of fruit you eat straight from fruit bowl. You could try, but you’d be sorry. It’s insanely sour and astringent, not that you’d have to worry much about either of those qualities since raw quince is also rock-hard and you’d break your teeth before you got too far tasting it. The only way it can be eaten raw is to wait until a frost damages the fruit’s cells, and then to allow the damaged fruit to rot somewhat (a process known as “bletting”). I assume you are uninterested in following this charming practice.

For this reason, quince invariably is served cooked. Sometimes quince finds its way into apple or pear preparations (such as pies or tarts, or as an accent to applesauce), where it lends a perfumelike quality and rosy pink hue. Elsewhere, it is a component of brandy-like alcoholic beverages. But quince finds its greatest expression in preserves. Its high pectin content (comparable to or perhaps slightly higher than that of the apple at 1.5%) means that quince, when cooked with sufficient sugar, sets into a firm jelly. Quince has been transformed into such thick, sweet pastes since antiquity; the Romans likely began the practice, and the Portuguese term marmelada refers to quince paste. Only during the British Empire, when citrus fruit became widely available through the trade with Spain, and the British learned that citrus peels possess an even higher pectin content than quince, did “marmelade” come to be associated with Seville oranges, rather than quince.

Anyway, on to your question. You were looking for a way to dress up your quince jelly. I mention marmelada because one of my favorite things to eat is the quince pastes of Portugal and Spain, where it is called membrillo. I especially like them with thin shards of Manchego – the salty, slightly sheepy quality of the cheese pairs perfectly with the fragrant membrillo. One variant I found in a shop some years ago, sold by the Spanish company Mitica, combines plum and quince for a plum membrillo even more delicious with cheese than the quince-only classic.

Plum membrillo

You can serve this, sliced into thin (maybe 1/4″ thick) shards, with equally thin slices of Manchego for a pitch-perfect hors-d’oeuvre. Or, if you’re looking for something more meaty, layer a slice under some pork products – obviously, jamon iberico is a natural choice. If you’re not interested in membrillo, incorporate the black plums into your quince jelly-making; just be sure to add sugar, since plums aren’t as pectin-y as quince.

2 kg (about 4 1/2 lbs) quince, peeled, cored, diced (weight after prepping)
1 kg (about 2 1/4 lbs) black plums, peeled, pitted, diced (weight after prepping)
1.5 kg (about 6 c) granulated sugar
1/4 c (about 55 ml) lemon juice
three strips of lemon peel – peel only

Place all the fruit in a nonreactive pan and with the lemon juice and peel; cover with water. Bring everything to a simmer and cook, covered, until tender, about 45 minutes. Purée until smooth.

Measure approximately 1:1 sugar to fruit purée by weight and combine. Bring back to a simmer. Cook over very low heat for about 90 minutes to 2 hours until very thick, smooth, and stretchy. Test by scooping a spoonful onto a cold plate; it should set up solidly once it cools. If not, continue to simmer until it does.

Lightly oil a glass baking dish with a neutral vegetable oil. Pour the membrillo into the pan. Cool. Turn the cooled plum membrillo out and cut into squares.

2 thoughts on “Quince.

  1. Matthew says:

    I have come across two other variations. Either add some sprigs of rosemary or coriander seeds when boiling down the quinces and then strain and re-boil the resulting liquid with sugar. I have tried the rosemary variation but it did not noticeably change the flavour of the resulting quince jelly

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