At this time of year, an abundance of this old-fashioned fruit is not a bad problem to have – especially if you’ve got the help of Aunt Daisy.
All through my childhood, there was a sad quince tree in the orchard. It was old and crooked, its trunk growing up a couple of metres before bending back toward the ground, as though it just gave up for a couple of decades. It barely ever produced any fruit, the odd quince every other year. But after some heavy pruning, it has sprung back to life, and now every Easter, my family has the very 19th-century-sounding problem of “too many quinces”.
Quinces seem like an elegant, fancy fruit. Perhaps a bit pretentious. They need a lot of time and energy, and they aren’t to everyone’s taste. Often we’ll just stew them up in a 50-50 mix with apples, which adds a little texture and a pale pink hue. Over the years I’ve tried dozens of recipes, baking them into cakes, freezing them into sorbets and ice creams, even steeping them with vodka.
A number of the recipes I’ve tried have come from the classic Aunt Daisy’s cookbook. Quinces are a bit old-fashioned, so it isn’t surprising that a recipe book from the middle of last century has dozens of recipes for them. These include two recipes for marrow and quince jam, as well as a quince and pineapple honey, before we get to three recipes for conserve and two for jam. My pick is a versatile recipe that requires a bit of time, but needs only quinces, white sugar and water. I used about 2kg of quinces, which resulted in six full jars, with a bit left over.
QUINCE PIECES IN JELLY
Wipe the quinces to ensure they are clean and not covered in fuzz. Peel and core the quinces, and place the peels and cores into a saucepan. Cover with water, then bring to the boil. Boil until the water turns to a pale pink colour, then strain, saving the liquid.
While the peels and cores are on the boil, take the rest of the quince and chop into small pieces – I aim for cubes about 2cm-3cm across. Weigh the quince pieces, then place into a heavy-bottomed pot. Cover with an equal weight of white sugar, and leave to sit overnight.
The next day, add the strained liquid from the cores and peel to the quince pieces and sugar. No additional sugar or water is needed – the sugar will have extracted plenty from the quince pieces overnight.
Bring the quince pieces to the boil for around an hour, then reduce the heat. The longer you boil, the darker the jam will get – I prefer to leave it a little longer, until it goes almost a deep purple. This results in a stickier paste, best suited for spreading on a cracker with some cheese. If you prefer it a little less viscous, then remove the pan from the heat earlier, when it is a pinker shade of red.
Use a slotted spoon or a ladle to put the quince pieces into jars, and top up with the syrup.