After trying quince and rhubarb earlier this year, I have been somewhat fascinated by this most majestic of fruits, so when my aunt arrived around with 3lbs of them she had got from a friend’s tree, it was like Christmas had come early. Looking at these beautiful small golden orbs, there seemed only one contender for what to do with them and that had to be quince jelly!
Easier to store and make than membrillo and equally at home with cheeses, meats or sweet dishes, quince jelly is a store cupboard treat and surprisingly easy to make to boot. The trickiest part is acquiring your quinces and everything else is pretty simple. But since I am utterly new to the world of preserving, I googled a few recipes for moral support and found this excellent and very informative recipe from The Cottage Smallholder and armed with her calm tones and expertise, I was ready to go.
Firstly you need to cook the quinces to release their sweet perfumed liquid. This is easily done by halving the fruit, leaving the waxy skins on and the pips in and simmering them on the stove for around a hour or until they are falling apart and slightly mushy. I then left them to cool in the pan for a couple of hours before moving on the straining stage.
This requires a jelly bag or large piece of clean fabric into which you pour the boiled quinces and the cooking liquor and allow to drip overnight so that you end up with just the juice of the fruit for the jelly and none of the pip-filled pith in it. This is easy enough to do, but a second pair of hands really help. Set your jelly bag or pillowcase (freshly ironed to sterilise it) into a bowl, fill up with the quinces and bring the four corners together and tie at the top. Then suspend the filled bag from a handy kitchen cabinet handle or tie it to a broom handle and allow the liquid to drip into a bowl. This is best done overnight, so pour you and your little helper a gin and tonic and leave the quinces to get on with it.
Next morning you should have a bowl of delicately perfumed juice which is a highly offputting shade of yellow. Ignore this aspect of it and concentrate on getting every drop of juice out of your fruit pulp. With very clean hands, squeeze the bag until the pips squeak and the pulp is very dry. You can then use the leftover pulp to make a delicious fruit cheese, similar to membrillo, but unfortunately I didn’t find this out until after I had thrown the pulp away. I’ll know next time though!
I then added the juice to the same heavy bottomed pan I had used to boil the quinces the previous day and added some pared lemon rind in a muslin bag cunningly fashioned from a Liz Earle cleansing cloth and tied it to the handle to impart an extra flavour to the jelly as it cooked. I added 1lb of sugar to each pint of quince liquor. The 3.5lb of quinces yielded just a hair over 3 pints of juice so I used about a bag and a half of sugar and it was time to start boiling and turn this insipid looking juice into regal jelly…
I brought the juice to the boil and kept it going at a rolling boil, skimming the cloudy scum off it every few minutes with a slotted spoon to keep the jelly very clear and glossy. I had put two plates in the freezer to help test the setting point of the jelly by drizzling a spoonful on the plate and allowing to cool, before checking to see if it ‘crinkles’ when you run your finger through it. I started checking for setting after about 10 minutes of boiling, but very little happened until much later.
While I was keeping an eye on the jelly, I was sterilising the jars in preparation of filling them. I had bought some small pots from Ikea with screw on lids and had washed them out well in the dishwasher overnight before putting them into a hot oven to sterilise. I put the lids in some boiling water on the stove along with the funnel I would be using to fill the jars and went back to skimming the jelly and checking to see if it was setting every few minutes.
Two things then happened. The jelly started to reach setting point and I realised that all the plastic lids of the jars had melted and buckled in the hot water, leaving me with no way of sealing the jars. Panic ensued until a swift Googling established that the nearby branch of Lakeland sold cellophane jar covers. We turned the heat off on the pan, put the lid on tightly and thanked heavens for the insulating properties of Le Cresuet while we made a hasty trip to Lakeland for some jam jar covers. We were back with 30 minutes and put the jelly back on to boil. It had stayed warm enough to only take about 10 minutes to get back to the stage where it had all started to go Pete Tong.
At this point the jelly gods decided to smile on me. The boiling liquid hit setting point with a perfect crinkle at my fingertips and I turned the pan off immediately to make sure it didn’t go over that point and began filling the sterilised jars with a silicone ladle. If you can get your hands on one of these or at least a plastic one, this will makes life a lot less sticky than using a metal one. I got about two and a half ladlefuls of the syrup to each jar, but filled them slowly and carefully to avoid an explosion with boiling sugar. The jars need to be filled to the top at much as possible to keep them fresh. I then put a waxed circle on top of each with clean hands and got to work with the cellophane.
These little circles need well wet with water and then put firmly on top of the still warm jelly so that they stretch tight like a drum. They then shrink as they dry and form a airtight seal that prevents any bugs or bacteria getting in and ruining the fruits of your labour. This is incredibly easy to do and actually forms a more attractive looking seal than the original lids did. I covered all eight jars with cellophane and left them to cool as I washed up the various implements and pans used. From start to finish the jelly took 2 hours to make (including our epic dash for jam pot covers). If you are more careful with your lids, this is a very easy thing to make on a lazy Sunday afternoon!