Sunday, August 23, 2009

Quince jelly: heaven in a jar. RECIPE!


by Andrew Byrne

Once each year, towards winter, the humble quince comes into its brief season. Once these fruit fell unused in Australian gardens. Now they sell for a dollar each or even more.

The quince is a true 'Old Testament' or 'Torah' fruit, possibly the forbidden fruit in Genesis since apples as we know them did not grow in the Holy Land. They are popular with Lebanese ('spherrjeel' in Arabic), Greeks and some Aussies who are in-the-know. In the hard times before Medicare, doctors would sometimes be brought a bucketful in lieu of fees or simply as a present. Some suburbs and towns still have old estates with prolific mature trees. But what to do with a dozen massive quinces?

Make jelly, of course! It is one of the delights of all time. And it can be made without too much difficulty by following a few simple rules-of-the-stove. One should select specimens without black spots - these are entry points for the worm which can occur in these fruit. Even so, being very woody, the affected parts can be discarded and the rest still used in the cooking. This is not so for poached quinces as whole segments are desirable. Quince jam (with pieces of fruit in a conserve) can also be made but the process is somewhat different from making jelly.

For jelly, after carefully washing the fruit using a brush and running water, the quinces should be cut up with a large, sharp knife, into 2-3cm chunks. Cores, skin, pips and all should go in - everything except the 'fuzz' on the outside (and any diseased sections). The total should be weighed as they will need approximately 75% of the same weight in sugar - which is added much later. Hence 1kg of quince pieces will need about 750g sugar, other things being equal (which sometimes they are not). This will partly depend on how efficiently you can strain your mixture and how much pectin comes out of the two small lemons per kilogram of quinces. These should also be cut small and added, skin, juice, pips and all, to the pot. The whole should be just covered with water and brought to the boil.

After simmering and occasional stirring for about an hour they should be poured into an old tea towel or muslin cloth which is suspended to hang for the 2-12 hours it takes to exude its valuable, clear to straw-coloured liqueur. I do this by placing the cloth across a big colander which I sit inside another saucepan. The corners can be drawn together and then twisted and held in place by a pair of self-retaining cooking tongs (or Spencer Wells surgical artery forceps). When cool enough, gently twist and squeeze the ‘poultice’ until only a dry residue remains. This is controversial as most recipes say not to do this “or else your jelly will become cloudy”. As long as you avoid any ooze from fruit itself you will not affect the quality and will increase the quantity by up to 25% in my experience.

The second boiling creates the jelly - and this is the 'risky' part. Gently add the sugar to the new saucepan and stock liqueur over ten minutes, stirring and making sure it does not boil over. It should now simmer gently for from 30 to 90 minutes while it is tested every 15 minutes for consistency. One recipe I have seen on the internet says that you will need about 500g of sugar for each 500ml of liqueur. Yet it also suggests placing the cold sugar in the oven beforehand which I have never found necessary. I use slightly less sugar than this and have never found the need for added pectin as long as the juice of two small lemons is added along the way.  A couple of cloves are a secret I learned from an old Hungarian patient. 

By placing a few drops of the hot liquid in a small spoon onto a plate, the process of thickening will become clear. Once the spoon forms a skim and gel forms underneath within ten minutes at room temperature, the process is over. A small amount in the bottom of cup in the fridge will also confirm the process has succeeded.

When you are certain of the consistency, pour the liquid into pre-scalded jars or bowls. Once the solution has reached room temperature it may be impossible to re-start the process.

If you are the nervous or unlucky type of cook, you might want to use a pectin-rich product made by CSR called Marmalade Setting Sugar. This should be used for not more that 10% of the total sugar but will help ensure that the product sets into a perfect gel. If you use too much of it the taste will be affected (it becomes ‘chemically’) and it may also become frankly rubbery.

The final result should be one of the flavours made in heaven. It is great on toast, croissants or scones ... even ice cream! Or roast duck or pork. 

No comments: