The quince is an ancient fruit, a cross between an apple and a pear and not seen much in modern times but it does seem to be having a mini revival. Sarah, my herb mentor, gave me some quinces last weekend, I hadn’t tried them before.
|Quinces in a row on the bench|
The quinces were to make jelly and cheese and have been sitting in a bowl on the dining table all week. Sarah told me that they need to cook for about 3 hours as they are hard, so every time someone’s gone to pick one up and bite it I’ve said “you can’t eat it raw because… it’s hard”. I decided to make my jelly yesterday and thought I’d have a taste of raw quince to see why it’s cooked; it was very sour and astringent, giving an instant feeling of having a furry tongue; some were harder to cut than others.
To make the jelly I cored the quinces but left the skin on, filled the slow cooker with quince and about half full with water and then thought “was I was supposed to do something with a lemon?” I read the instructions on Sarah's blog, I should have put the peel and juice of 2 lemons in, I only had one so I put that in. In future I must read instructions when I’m making things instead of trying to remember what I’ve read days before! The quinces had started to oxidise quickly, I thought maybe if I’d put them straight into water and lemon they wouldn’t have gone brown so quickly. I was reading my Preserves book this morning by Pam The Jam (Pam Corbin) and she has a table of how much pectin is in fruit and how much acid. She says the 4 things needed for jams or jellies are fruit, pectin sugar and acid. The acid draws the pectin out of the fruit and as quinces have high pectin and low acid a couple of lemons balance that out. If I had read the instructions at the time I would also have covered my quince with water and had more liquid.
|Straining the cooked quince|
I did a bit of shopping and visited some friends and came home to find pink quince in the pot with pink fluid, I was quite amazed. I tasted the boiled quince and yes, it was still sour. I strained the cooked quince through a jelly bag, I had 1 pint of fluid to which I added 1pound of granulated sugar. I let this boil for 10 minutes but it had not quite reached setting point, after 5 more minutes I was there. I poured the pink liquid into sterilised jars. I tasted it, and loved it, it’s hard to describe – perfumed pear with a hint of rose along with sweet and sour, it was really worth making. My eldest daughter walked in as I was finishing off, “mm… that would taste lovely with toast” she said, so that’s what I had for breakfast today, any excuse, and yes it was lovely. Quince is my new favourite fruit!
A good thing about making quince jelly is that the fruit that was strained off need not be wasted; Sarah had recommended quince cheese, which isn’t cheese at all. I pureed the fruit with a little fluid from the cooking of the quinces and had a bowl of sloppy red-brown pulp. To 2 pounds of quince I added 2 pounds of sugar and heated it on a very low heat until it was thick enough to drag a spoon through to show the bottom of the pan and it took a few seconds for it to cover over the pan bottom again.
Even when cooked on a very low heat my quince cheese kept bubbling and shooting blobs up the kitchen walls, cupboards, cooker, floor, into the dinner I was trying to cook and splashed onto my arms burning me. Even half off the gas ring it resembled a geyser from Yellowstone park, I thought I’d cleaned up everything, went to put the kettle on and got a sticky hand. I won’t bother with the cheese again I told myself, until I tasted it; again it was well worth it.
I hadn’t bothered checking how many jars I had before I started, I thought I had plenty and discovered that this was not the case so the next thing I had to start doing was straining off tinctures and elixirs which were sitting on my windowsill so as I could use the jars! Quince cheese has the grainy texture of pears and can be eaten with cheese which I look forward to trying.
I wasn’t sure I’d like quince but I love it, I think I'm getting addicted I have to keep tasting it! I can’t believe it’s not more popular, thank you Sarah.
Make a bitter jelly using rowan or cramp bark with apple. What would you use this for medicinally?
Whilst I was in jelly-making mode I decided to do my practical task for autumn. At the herb Sanctuary last weekend I collected crab apples and berries from the guilder rose or cramp bark tree. Cramp bark as the name suggests helps with pain, it is very good for menstrual pain, and I don’t know whether or not the berries contain any pain-relieving compounds. The berries are bitter and bitters are used to help the digestive system, tasting bitter food starts off the production of digestive enzymes and bile ready to digest food. Eating some bitter jelly with your dinner could help you to digest your food better.
|Berries of the Guelder Rose or Cramp Bark tree|
The berries look beautiful, red and glossy but don’t smell so good I’m afraid, and after cooking them I had a lingering aroma around the house. Everyone entering the house was asking what the smell was so I ended up lighting incense to mask it.
As I had to cook dinner, mind the exploding quince cheese and clear up after everything , the easiest thing was to put the crab apples and the guilder rose berries into the slow cooker for a couple of hours until everything calmed down.
|Crab apples & guelder rose berries before cooking|
I then strained the fruit through the jelly bag as before.
|Straining stewed crab apples and cramp bark/guelder rose berries|
To one pint of liquid I added a pound of sugar, I had more fluid but the smell was putting me off being left with too much of this stuff. The liquid tasted very bitter, I didn’t think anything edible would come of this. Again it took me 15 minutes to reach setting point; in Pam the Jam’s book crab apples are high in both pectin and acid so no lemons are required, good job as I never considered it at the time.
|Crab Apple & Guelder Rose Berry Jelly|
I must admit I was pleasantly surprised when I tried the finished product, it has some bitterness to it but the addition of the sugar has made it very palatable and there is no sign of the unpleasant aroma that was left lurking everywhere else around the house. I think it will be just the thing to have with a greasy meal to help digestion and I would make it again.