Thursday, September 18, 2014

Variations on a theme: quince compote, jam, jelly and syrup


Quince is one of those almost-forgotten fruits that you usually do not come across at a supermarket. You may be lucky enough to find some at a farmer's market, but usually you either get them from a tree in your own back yard or from friends, who are usually happy to part with some of their bounty.

I fall into the second category. When we were in Piedmont a couple of week ends ago, we left with a large carton of produce that included four quinces. I had never cooked with them before and didn't even know whether they were ripe or not. I did some reading and learned that they are ripe when they turn a nice yellow hue and smell sweet and floral. Don't expect them to turn softer, however, because they stay rock hard even when they mature. Another handy piece of information I collected is that if you are using them to make preserves, they don't need to be fully ripe.

Something elso you probably already know about this fruit is that it cannot be consumed raw. Once it is cooked, however, it can be used in many ways: to accompany savory dishes (pork roast, game, blue cheese anybody?) or in desserts. They work well in pies and tarts, but you can also lightly poach them with vanilla or spices or cook them longer into a compote or jam like I did.

A fun fact: did you know that the word marmalade originally comes from the Portuguese word for quince - marmelo - as quince marmalade, very popular in Medieval England, was usually imported from Mediterranean countries and only actually started being made there much later, towards the Sixteenth century.

Anyway, after checking on my quinces daily for about ten days, I decided to make something with them. They may not have been fully ripe because they did smell floral, but only faintly. I wasn't too concerned really, since I was going to make a jam out of them.
I washed the fuzz on the skin off and started chopping and cleaning, which was probably the most strenuous part of the whole process. They are hard little suckers (mine were also all inhabited by a few wiggly creatures: let me just say the cleaning did not only involve the core and seeds).
After the lengthy operation there were still over two pounds of flesh from the four specimens, a little more than the amount indicated in Family Spice's recipe, which I followed as a guideline, although I decided to use less sugar than suggested because I don't like things that are overly sweet. I may even consider using less next time.

I then took the recipe a step further and made different variations on the theme by straining a little here, processing a little there and even adding some water. The last logical step would have been to make membrillo, the Spanish quince paste/cheese, by further straining the blended jam through a fine mesh sieve and then cooking and baking it until no moisture was left. But I was frankly a little tired  satisfied with what I had and decided to call it a day.
We had the jam with some goat milk gorgonzola last night and it was the perfect end to a meal. The kids love strong cheeses but they eyed the jam with suspicion. Until they tasted them together, that is, after which they had about three more spoonfuls each. The jelly would have worked perfectly too of course.
I am looking forward to having the compote and/or syrup with some Greek yogurt next.

2+ lbs quince
1 cup water
2 sparse cups sugar
3 to 4 tbsp lemon juice

Wash, core and chop the quinces into large chunks. You can also peel the fruit but I didn't (less hassle and hopefully extra vitamins and fiber). Be careful when you cut them, it is an extremely hard fruit. 

Heat the water in a large sauce pan, add the sugar and lemon juice and whisk until the sugar dissolves. Add the quince and bring to a boil on medium-high heat. Once the liquid is boiling cover with a kitchen towel (to keep in the steam) and a lid and simmer on low heat until the fruit softens and turns a lovely dark pink. This took me about 2 hours.

When the fruit is ready, you can serve it as is, like a compote. Or you can separate the thick syrup from the fruit, and set it aside: thanks to the natural pectin in the quince, it will turn into jelly once it cools off. The other option is to process/blend the compote into jam. I tried all three, plus I made some syrup.

For the syrup, I just loosened some of the jelly on the stove with a few drops of water. If you do not intend to make jelly, you can just avoid letting the syrup get too concentrated during the simmering process.
I did not can the results of my work but am storing them in the fridge in sterilized jars. They should last up to a month at least, if they make it that long!











  1. Ho una passione per le cotogne, l'anno scorso ne ho prese molte durante la Festa dei frutti dimenticati a Casola Valsenio e c'ho combinato un po' di cosette! quest'anno ci torno come spero faccio altra razzia! :)

  2. Never tried quince that I can remember.. or even seen it? But it intrigue me. How interesting that it turns color so dramatically.

  3. I made Ottolenghi's quince stuffed with lamb last year - it was relly good. Membrillo - or dulce de membrillo - is very popular here. It is a thickened quince paste that you slice and is tradionally served (in Spain) with Manchego cheese as a tapa. Next time I get some, ,I am making your jam! _~ David

  4. It's so true that we pretty much ignore quinces. I don't remember ever having anything 'quince' when I was growing up. Your quince jam looks wonderful and this is a great use of quinces. I love quince jam with cheese xx

  5. You know you're right! Every time that I have made something with quince, it is with quince that has been given to me!


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