I love to make jam (and have recently discovered the joys of jelly) but I’m loathe to blog about it because if you do it wrong, you can give someone the gift of botchulism. If you are new to preserving, you can go straight to the source and use this well-written guide from the USDA. I follow the canning practices of my mother, who has been making jams from our garbage fruit trees for decades. She never kills anyone. Good enough for me!
All of the garbage fruit trees in the garden have long since succumbed to the Oak Root Rot (except the lovely Meyer lemon I wrote about here, but that is far from a garbage tree), so imagine my delight when a neighbor pointed out that a pretty little flowering tree by the garage door was bearing quinces. I thought it was crabapple and moreover, I had no idea what quinces even were. Turns out, they are the ultimate canning fruit, being super fragrant, inedible raw, and loaded with natural pectin. They look like a small yellow apple and people believe they are the actual apples from the Garden of Eden, among many other literary and biblical endorsements. Others refer to quince as a “miracle” fruit because they gel so quickly when you cook them. They take the tedious guess work and candy thermometers out of jelly and jam making.
The difference between jam and jelly (which I never considered before either) is that jam involves the whole fruit while jelly is clear because it’s the strained essence. Because you boil the whole quince to get that lovely pectin, and the fruit is mostly seeds, jelly made the most sense to me. After making two batches of quince jelly — one with ripe fruits that were yellow and another with green fruits that were not — I decided to pick the remaining quinces on the tree and see if they would cause other fruits to gel more quickly. They did! Another nifty thing about quinces is how they turn pink when cooked and even weirder, the jelly I made with unripe (green) quinces was rosier than the jelly I made with the ripe ones.
I next added some quince to some seedless green grapes I had leftover and didn’t feel like eating, along with some lovely organic honey we got for New Year’s and the juice of our Meyer lemons. I dropped a cinnamon stick in my Mom’s big copper jam-making pot and kept it in through the later batches of strawberry jam. See below for the recipe I ended up with for quince jelly. The strawberry jam (and any jam really) is too easy to even write down. Cook any fruit with sugar to taste (or honey), a bit of lemon juice, and wait for it to thicken. Done.
For recipes, I used a whole bunch of websites but the one I liked best was Chocolate & Zucchini which is written by a French chick who is a veritable quince expert.
Quince Jelly for Rosh Hashanana adapted from Chocolate&Zucchini
Quinces (either ripe or not)
Most recipes suggest about 7/8 of a cup of sugar for each cup of quince juice you end up with but I think you should use your own taste buds as your guide. Similarly, add lemon juice until you are pleased with the flavor you get. These are really the only ingredients but you will need cheesecloth, which I didn’t have.
Wash and cut up your quinces into quarters, removing worms if necessary (I didn’t have this problem). Cook your quinces until they are mushy — seeds and all. This only took me 20 minutes but I read that it took some people an hour.
Strain the quince mush into a bowl. Restrain the contents of the bowl through damp cheesecloth into a large measuring cup. Reserve the gunk in the cheesecloth to add to jam later if you are like me!
Now that you have measured, you know how much sugar you want to add. Lemon juice to taste. Using a big, heavy (non-reactive) pot like our copper jam-making monstrosity, cook the quince extract with the sugar, dissolving it fully before you allow the mixture to boil.
A note on sterilizing jars: There are several ways to do this. Please consult the USDA to be sure. I boil my jars and lids in an enormous pot and only remove them from the boiling water with tongs when I’m ready to fill them, but you may feel more comfortable with another method.
The only trick to making jelly or jam (besides sterilizing your equipment) involves cooking the mixture till it’s ready to gel without allowing it to burn. Most recipes say to boil the mixture to a certain temperature. I don’t always do that. The beauty of quince is that it gels at the drop of a hat no matter what you do. Again — there are many ways to figure out when your jelly or jam is ready to be jarred. I use the cold plate technique. You freeze a small saucer and drop the mixture on it. If the drop doesn’t run, you are ready to fill your jars. A more scientific way would be to use a candy thermometer but I’m way too lazy. As you stir the mixture, you will feel it thicken and pull against your spoon which gives you a hint when to start dropping on a cold plate.
Other tips? Don’t fill your jars all the way to the top and tighten the tops as the jam cools without moving the jars as they settle.
Speaking of lazy, I finally finished the new draft of the script I feel I have been writing my entire life. Why is it that I can’t tell you what’s going to happen at the end of the story and then suddenly, I know? Magic. Just like jelly. Try it yourself and have a sweet New Year.