Membrillo may be the way most people come across quinces in shops, but there are other, equally delicious ways of preserving the fruit. Now is the time to take advantage of the last of the quinces and make jam and jelly. This post was meant to go up before Christmas, but jam and jelly make perfect New Year presents too and, if you don’t need to give it away, you can eat it! These recipes come from Quinces, Growing and Cooking (Prospect Books), which I wrote with Sue Dunster.
A Couple of Tips
Making jam and jelly is perfectly simple and incredibly satisfying, but there one or two points to be aware of. Unless specified the instructions below apply to both jam and jelly even though I have referred only to jam.
The type of sugar you use will not alter the taste of the jam but it will affect how it sets. Most importantly you must always use cane sugar rather than beet. Apparently in chemical terms there is no difference between the two, but cane sugar sets much better. If you use beet sugar your preserve will take ages to make and will always be on the runny side. Whether you use granulated or preserving, refined or unrefined is entirely up to you. Preserving or jam sugar is more expensive than granulated and not quite so readily available. The individual grains of sugar are larger and this means they dissolve more easily and, in turn, this speeds up the whole process. It is good if, like us, you are impatient but it doesn’t make better jam. Using refined or unrefined sugar is entirely a matter of personal preference.
The aspect of jam making which tends to worry people most is the setting point. This is the point at which the hot bubbling liquid in your pot will set when it cools. It is crucial not to overcook jam or jelly as they can become solid and rubbery and may taste burnt. The important thing to remember is that you can always cook the jam bit more, you cannot uncook it. With this in mind, always remove the pot from the heat when you test the jam. This way it will immediately stop cooking. It does not matter how many times you do this, you can even recook cold jam if you decide it is not sufficiently set. Testing whether the jam is set is very simple. Before you start put several saucers into the deep freeze. When you think the jam may be ready, remove it from the heat and, using a teaspoon put a small amount of jam onto one of the cold saucers. The jam will rapidly cool. Push your finger through it and if it forms a wrinkly skin it means the jam is ready and will set when cooled in jars. The jam is then ready to pour into jars. If it remains runny replace the pan on the heat and retest using another cold saucer.
When cooking the jam you will probably find a scum forms on the surface. Do not scoop this off while the jam is cooking as you will end up wasting a lot. When making jam you can disperse the scum by adding a little butter. Once the setting point has been reached, put a knob of soft butter into the jam and stir it until it melts. Any scum will miraculously disappear. The amount of butter you need will depend on the quantity of jam you are making and how much scum there is, so start with about ¼ teaspoon and add a little more if necessary. When making jelly you will need to scoop the scum off eventually as it will spoil the clarity of the jelly. Once the jelly has reached setting point allow it to cool slightly and then scoop off all the scum using a clean spoon. It doesn’t look terribly attractive, but tastes just as good and can be put in a separate jar and eaten.
It is important to sterilize your jars properly otherwise you run the risk of the jam going mouldy. It is perfectly okay to remove any mould and eat the jam below but it doesn’t look very good if you give away a jar of proudly made jam and a layer of blue mould has crept in. To sterilise, first preheat the oven to 110C / Gas ¼. Wash the jars and lids thoroughly in hot, soapy water and rinse well. You can run them through a cycle of a dishwasher if you prefer. Put the jars upside down in the oven and leave them until they are totally dry. If you are using metal lids they can go in the oven too. Drying the jars in the oven removes the risk of wiping them with a less than spotless cloth and also means that they are hot and will not crack when you pour the hot jam into them.
When cooking, simmer the fruit slowly to break it up and dissolve the sugar. Then boil it rapidly, as the quicker it reaches the setting point the better the flavour will be.
This is a wonderful jam which is not too sweet and really thick with fruit.
- 1kg quinces
- 1.8ml water
- 1.250-1.5kg granulated or preserving sugar, according to how sweet you want the jam
- Juice of 2 lemons
- Small piece of butter
- This will make between 3 and 6 jars depending how juicy the quinces are and how runny you like your jam.
- Put a couple of saucers in the deep freeze for testing the jam.
- Wash the jars and put in a low oven (110C / Gas ¼) to dry.
Wash the quinces, removing all the fluff and cut out any bruised flesh. If the fruits are large, cut them in half as they will cook quicker this way. If there are signs that any of the fruits have been eaten by grubs it is worth cutting them anyway to check the inside. Put in a large steel pan, add the water (which should cover the fruit) and simmer until soft. This should take between ½ to 1 hour depending on the size of your quinces. Check periodically to ensure the pan does not dry out.
Lift the quinces out one at a time, place on a saucer and pull apart with a knife and fork and remove the core. You do not need to worry about the skin as this will break up when you boil the jam. The fruit will fall apart as you remove the cores. Cut the pieces in dice sized chunks.
Return the quinces to the juice in the saucepan and add the sugar and lemon juice. Heat gently to dissolve the sugar and then boil hard until the setting point is reached. (See above.)
Pour into hot, sterilized jars, seal and once the jars are cool, label.
One of the joys of this jelly is the beautiful, clear colour, quite apart from the fabulous taste. It can be eaten on toast or scones and is also a delicious accompaniment to chicken, turkey and pheasant.
Sugar – granulated or preserving
Depending on the fruit 1kg of fruit will give you about 300ml of juice which will, in turn, make just over a jar of jelly.
Wash the quinces and rub off the fluffy down. Remove any bruised or blemished parts and cut all the rest into chunks, you don’t need to worry about peeling or coring.
Put into a large, heavy bottomed saucepan and add enough water so the fruit is just submerged.
Bring to the boil and simmer until the fruit has turned to pulp. Stir and squash down periodically to help the fruit break up and to prevent it sticking. This will probably take a couple of hours.
Pour the contents into a jelly bag and allow the juice to drip through into a bowl. It is easiest if you spoon the fruit into the bag first and then pour the liquid over. The whole operation is quite difficult and much simpler with two people, one to hold the bag open and one to pour. Do not squeeze the bag or press the fruit down as this will turn the jelly cloudy. The jelly will take a couple of hours to drip through and can be left overnight.
Put a couple of saucers in the deep freeze to use for testing the jelly.
Wash the jars and put in a low oven (110C / Gas ¼) to dry.
Measure the juice and for every 500ml juice add 400g sugar. Put into a clean saucepan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Once the liquid is clear, turn up the heat and boil hard until setting point is reached. (See above.)
Pour into hot, sterilized jars, seal and once the jars are cool, label.