Sunday, November 4, 2012

Breakfast Foraging: Flowering Quince Jam


The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday – but never jam today. – Lewis Carroll, from Alice in Wonderland


The longer I live, the more I learn, thankfully. For instance, I always thought that flowering quince had only two qualities: garden decoration in springtime, and the property of never being able to be gotten rid of.

One of my victims in its natural habitat.
We have two running battles in the country with flowering quince, one at my mothers and one at my great aunts.

It seems that if you cut them it just makes them angry. They come back with a vengeance,and send suckers many, many feet out from the “offended” plant. "Hardy" is an understatement.

Now I’m glad that I know they’re not quite as useless as I thought. You can use the fruit to make jam (and also to flavour liqueur, so I have been told).

Everyone knows the bush I’m talking about. It’s actually quite breathtaking in bloom – literally covered with hot-pink flowers. This bush's botanical name is Chaenomeles speciosa..

There is another quince that is grown specifically for fruit. That one’s Cydonia oblonga. Note the different first names – the two are different species. But both are in the family Rosaceae. That family includes apples and pears. Cydonia are not winter hardy in Nova Scotia, being Asian natives,so if you see true quince in the store they have travelled far.

Flowering quince blossoms. Photo: fyrefiend, Flickr ccl
Any recipe that uses quince can use flowering quince fruit. The flowering quince fruit is smaller, so if a recipe calls for a specific number of fruit be aware that you’ll need more. True quinces can be the size of apples.

You can "forage" your flowering quince from your own, or your neighbour's bush. They probably won't have a use for them and will look at you strangely when you ask to pick.

I foraged my quince from my uncle’s tree and a couple off our scraggly stems trying desperately to survive my attempts at murder. The quince off our bush was very small, like an egg; the others were the size of small lemons.

Because of our growing season don’t expect the quince to be ripe as you would expect an apple to be ripe. They will be as hard as rocks – and almost as difficult to deal with. They also will be somewhat green outside. If you can pick ones that have started to yellow.

It’s also best to wait until the frost hits them once or twice. This helps develop the internal sugars. But don’t try to bite into one. It will either break your teeth, or suck all the saliva out of your mouth. They are unbelievably astrigent. If you smell a quince it should have an pleasant, unusual floral aroma. This translates into your jam.

The inside of the fruit is quite white and the core is a little
difficult to remove. My quince is the orangey one.
I’m actually quite amazed that such a nice jam can be made from something so unpromising. When you're making the jam it does a magic trick close to the end of cooking time. It turns from yellow to quite a lovely orangey red.

Kind of odd, the jam turns almost the same colour as the flowers. Certainly not the colour of the fruit...

Quince makes a very old-fashioned and unusual jam. It has a bright flavour that is unlike anything else. It also is not overly sweet which makes it very different than other jams and jellies.

Quince are high in natural pectin so all you need is the fruit, sugar and water. They also contain more Vitamin C than lemons.

Note, I used some decorative little cage-top jars that I found at the Dollar Store for my jam. The directions call for canning jars with lids. Since I can’t be absolutely sure mine are sealed, I have to refrigerate them.


Flowering Quince Jam
This is the chopped fruit, just when it's starting to be cooked.
Thanks goodness for food processors.
Prep: 45 min  |  Cook: 45 min to 1 hour  |  Yield: 3+ cups 
Adapted from Simply Recipes
4 cups finely chopped flowering quince (between 5-7 fruit)
3-1/2 cups water
juice of one orange
zest of one orange 
3 1/2 cups sugar
*1/4 cup Grand Marnier (optional)

Unless you are used to making jelly, use a candy thermometer for this.

To prepare the quinces first wash the fruit well and remove any obvious blemishes. (The ones I picked had some dark spots on the skin, which I didn’t remove. Bruises were removed.)

Quarter the quince and cut out the cores. This may take some doing. They are very hard. 

Chop the quince in a food processor – or a chef’s knife – into small pieces. Measure out 4 packed cups of fruit.

This is the actual colour it turned. Amazing.
Place the quince, water, orange zest and juice in a stock pot. Simmer for 10 minutes to soften the flesh. then add the sugar, bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium low.

Cook the quince until a thermometer reads 220°F. This is the jelly stage. It may take 45 minutes; it may take an hour; it may take longer. 

Stir occasionally to ensure the jam doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Skim off any "scum" that forms on the surface.

Once ready, prepare your canning jars by sterilizing the glass, rings and lids in very hot water. Fill the jars leaving a little head room. Place the tops on and tighten the rings on top.

Turn upside down and let sit on the counter for 1/2 hour. Flip over and let cool completely. The lid should be dimpled down to show that the jars are vacuum sealed. If they aren’t, refrigerate. Better safe than sorry.

* If adding the Grand Marnier, stir it in after the jam has reached 220°F and is off the heat. The extra liquid will make a slightly softer jam but I wouldn't worry. It certainly won't make it runny.

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