With the sky dark before 6:00 PM and fog hanging heavy in the early mornings, fall is definitely upon us, with winter on its way. At the farmers' markets around Orange County the varied bounty of summer is beginning to fade, the tomatoes and stone fruits giving way to apples, root vegetables and winter greens. Apples are the undeniable kings of the fall fruit crop, persimmons the patient eaters reward. Quince, however, are under appreciated if not forgotten altogether. With its green, downy flesh, looking like a squashed, slightly gnarled pear, quince don't have the appetizing look of a glossy apple or a perfectly ripe pear. And in their raw form, other than a delightful floral scent, they make for terrible eating--intensely astringent and very hard. When cooked though, quince transforms both in appearance and flavor, its off-white flesh turning a beautiful deep red, the flavor loosing its raw bite and moving towards a taste that the whole fruit's scent promises.
Due to its need to be cooked and its high pectin content, quince is a perfect fruit for making jam. For the lazy among us, the effort needed to transform a fruit that is perfectly good fresh into jam is too much, but if you pick up a few pounds of quince from the farmers' market there is going to be some cooking between you and eating the fruit--so why not jam? The process is very simple and the reward is wonderful--having a jar--or jars--of homemade quince jam on hand is great not only for breakfast toast, but to eat with cheeses (Manchego cheese with membrillo--Spanish quince paste--is a classic pairing) or savory dishes based on pork or chicken. The following recipe is for a straightforward quince jam, but the fruit takes well to many additional flavors, from bay and thyme to cardamom. For a primer on quince and the tastes it pairs with, check out this post from Los Angeles-based canning blogger Kevin West.
2.5 pounds quince (about 8 cups prepared fruit)
2.5 cups sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 lemon
¼ cup water
Peel and core the quince, cutting the fruit into chunks
While preparing the quince, keep the cut fruit in a bowl of water with half a lemon squeezed into it, to keep from browning
Drain the prepared fruit and add to a thick-bottomed pot, along with the sugar and water
Bring to a boil, being careful not to let the sugar scorch, then reduce to a simmer.
Keep the quince at a low simmer, stirring occasionally, for at least an hour or until the fruit has taken on a deep red color.
If the syrup reduces too much, allowing the fruit to scorch or burn, before the desired color has been achieved, simply add a touch of water, bringing the syrup back to a level that nearly covers the fruit.
When the fruit is a deep red, remove from heat and stir in the remaining lemon juice and zest.
Depending on the desired texture of jam (smooth or varying degrees of chunky), the fruit and syrup can be mashed together with a potato masher, ran through a food mill or just barely pureed in a food processor.
Allow the finished jam to cool, then transfer to jars.
As is, the jam must be stored in the refrigerator. If you wish to process the jars for shelf storage, refer to the canning instructions included with canning jars purchased from the store.
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Yield: 1 quart