When I was in kindergarten, our class held an alphabet feast. Each of us was assigned a letter of the alphabet and tasked with providing a food whose name began with that letter. The “A” student could bring apples, the “P” student could bring pie, as the “Q” student I faced a great challenge. But, as always, my brilliant and resourceful mother had an idea: Quince Jam. I’m not sure I had ever tasted quinces before that day when we finally found a jar of imported Quince Jam after visiting what seemed like every specialty store in the western towns of Essex County, NJ. The “Q” student in the the other class may have had an easier time making quiche than hunting for quinces, but I think that my mom and I came out on top. My classmates and I ate quince jam on saltines sitting cross-legged on the classroom floor, or at least that’s how I remember it. I don’t think I tasted quince again until the man who is now my husband poached them in wine for dessert one cold winter evening in London.
Recalcitrant and inedible in their raw state, quinces have long inspired fear and love among cooks. Amanda E. Herbert shows how a gifts of “Marmalade of Quinces,” or other sugared fruits, circulated in a female social network in her book Female Alliances: Gender, Identity, and Friendship in Early Modern England. Local, hearty English quinces were softened and tempered with boiling and the extravagant use of imported sugar. Preserved quinces shared between women demonstrated generous consumption of expensive sweeteners and inborn feminine skills at taming the unruly quince. Molly Wizenberg’s recent post on Orangette reflects a twenty-first-century view of this very same issue and offers a great, simple recipe for taming and tenderizing this “esoteric fruit.” Since that early encounter and more recent reintroduction, I’m hooked on quinces. I’ve been making Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Sticky Quince and Ginger Cake for years now, Nigella Lawson’s Quince Meat is my household’s standard mince pie filling (or at least it was before these came along), and I’ve long admired quince-whisperer Nigel Slater’s recipes.
This recipe from UPenn MS Codex 252 instructs cooks in a complex method for preserving quinces in a gelatinous liquid thickened with sugar and pectin from apples and the quinces themselves. Our recipe, below, is a bit simpler.
To presarue quincis to by in gilley X
Take thicke rind quincs and pare them uery thin and lay them
in water ther or four dayes then boyle them tender in fare water
then take them out of that water and put them into a pane of could
water all the night next day tak them up and dry them with a fare cloth and
put them into as much clarefide sugar as will couer
or them and so
Let them boyle lasurly in that sugar now and then tosng them to take
then Let the stand in a nerthen pan till the next moring then set
them on the fire agane and when you se them louke cleare and tender
pouer them into a woden sive and let the surup drop from them then
put a quarterne of apele water and a pound of frish sugar into that serup and
one it will make your quincis in quiking gelley
Despite the lengthy description of cooking methods in this recipe, it is easy to streamline and requires very few ingredients. A quick search on Early English Books Online reveals many uses of “apple water,” or water in which apples have been boiled, in culinary and medicinal recipes. For this recipe, it seems to add pectin to the preserving liquid.
3/4 c sugar (to use in 1/4 c and 1/2 c quantities)
6 c water (to use in 2 c quantities)
1 jar (if you plan to can these or prefer to store them in a jar)
*These proportions yield 1 ball jar of stewed quinces in sweet liquid. This can easily be doubled or tripled to preserve more fruit.*
Peel and core a quince. Slice it thin. Soak in two cups of cold water overnight (or for a few hours depending on what suits your schedule).
Drain the quince from the soaking water and put in a pot with 1/4 c sugar and 2 c water. Bring to a boil and then turn it down to a simmer to cook the quince “leisurely” until soft. (I let my quince simmer for about two hours while I was doing other things.) Using a colander, strain out the quinces and discard the cooking liquid. Set quinces aside.
Either during the last half hour of cooking the quinces, or after, prepare a jar and make the apple water/preserving liquid.
Fill your jar with boiling water and then discard. Put the quinces in the jar.
Roughly chop an apple, skin core and all. Put the apple in 2 c water in a pot. Bring to a boil and then simmer for a half hour. Remove the apples and add 1/2 c sugar to the cooking liquid. Boil until the sugar dissolves. Pour this liquid into the jar with the quinces. Let cool before covering.
Now, these preserved quinces did not last long in my kitchen. (I eating them with pancake, ice cream, yogurt, cake, etc.) I cleaned my jar with boiling water, but I did not properly can these. If you want to can a batch of these, Marisa McClellan has great advice over here on Food and Jars and in her cookbooks.
Unfortunately, the syrup did not become jelly. I think this is partly because the original recipe instructs cooks to discard the pectin rich quince cooking water. On the other hand, perhaps my apple water could have been prepared more effectively. Luckily, the non-jellied liquid made an awesome syrup for the pancakes. Let us know if your quinces jelly!