Quince

I found this in the Joy of Cooking:

Given our cultural predilection for breeding the most uniform, shelf stable, and prettiest fruits and vegetables, it’s a wonder the quince has survived our agricultural fervor.

Quinces are knobby and irregular, like lumpy pears. They are a bit drab-looking and neglected and are prone to patches of rot. Their flesh is pale and grainy–much like the flesh of a pear, but far more pronounced. They do not soften as they ripen, and they cannot be eaten like an apple, for their flesh is highly astringent, making them unpleasant to eat out of hand.

Hearing all this, you may think, indeed, why has the quince, a highly inhospitable specimen, survived the quest for “ideal” fruit? I can only attribute the quince’s staying power to the inexplicable inertia of longevity. The quince has played part in humankind’s orchard for centuries at least. The quince was Paris’s offering to Aphrodite, and Apicius’s ancient Roman cookbook contains recipes for stewing quince with honey. If quinces have one thing going for them, it is time.

But in fact, quinces have quite a lot more than just time going for them. A bowl of quince can perfume a whole room with their delicate, floral scent. In Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book, she even suggests placing some in the bedroom or living room, and states that in earlier times, quince were often stored with linens. Quince is doubtless a much finer scent than nose-numbing sachets of cinnamon potpourri.

This heady fragrance is not just skin deep. The flavor of cooked quince is much like a rose or violet. And indeed, along with apples and pears, quinces belong to the same horticultural family as the rose. To be perfectly honest, the proper words to describe the flavor of quince elude me. My first exploratory nibble of quince jelly flooded my tastebuds with aromatic notes of rose, and ripe apple and pear. Beyond that, there are ineffable aromas that perhaps only a parfumier could elucidate. But I think it is just that–the mysterious and subtle flavor of the quince–that so enthralls me.

Further, quince, not unlike the Horse of A Different Color from the land of Oz, changes color. Like cut apples or pears, quince will oxidize and brown once the flesh is exposed to the air, but as you cook quince–either by roasting, simmering, or stewing–its nondescript, cottony white interior turns pink. If you continue to cook quince past the pink stage, it attains an almost ruby red or magenta hue. It is, in a word, gorgeous.

Quince needs some coaxing to attain its full splendor, but it is more than worth the effort, as is the case with many stubborn but delicious foods (artichokes, I’m looking at you). There are many ways to cook quince. Most recently, I have seen recipes for Quince Tarte Tatin and a Quince-Apple Tart, but my favorite thing to do with special fruit is to preserve it.

I am not much of a jelly-maker. I have long preferred the chunky, rustic texture of preserves and compotes over strangely smooth jellies, but I do see their appeal. They are refined and feel a bit fancier than preserves. Indeed, they have an air of something fit for a formal tea service, although this is perhaps my own flight of fancy, having never been served formal tea before.

And quince jelly seems particularly suited for tea, owing to its delicate pink hue and subtle but distinct floral flavor. But I’ll settle for simply spreading it on toast or serving it with soft cheeses. Quince jelly is a good one for beginners to make, as quinces are full of pectin, which means that it doesn’t take long to reach the jelling point, and you don’t have to worry about adding additional pectin.

 

Damson Plums

Good morning Jam Lovers!!!  I stumbled upon the last 5 pounds of Damson Plums at Souto’s down at the Crossroads Market on Sunday.  I had never used these before but people who know these plums, love the jam.  I must say, it’s really good.  I only made a small amount and have 6 jars for sale.  If you want some, please let me know ASAP and I’ll put it aside for you.

Crabapple Jelly

I now have Crabapple Jelly again after managing to swoop in and pick the apples just a day ahead of the snow and ice.  It’s gorgeous, red and you can read through it (I’m given to hyperbole).

 

I also have Crabapple Butter for those who were asking for it.

 

 

Update August 2014

I have been remiss at posting in here – too busy making jam I suppose.

I wanted to let people know that I have been busy stocking up again and have amended the product list so that you knew what jams I have back in stock now – these include some big favourites such as Green Fig, Strawberry Rhubarb, and Creme de Cassis.

Blue Rodeo Jam

It’s been a big day at Jam Goddess.  I sat with Jim Cuddy at a charity event in Edmonton 2 years ago and asked if I could name a jam after Blue Rodeo.  This year, I sent the band 4 jars.  They were nice enough to post a photo and a thank you on their website.  Is it wrong of me to brag, just a bit?

Here’s the link:

 

Roiling Boil

The berries tumble in the pan

Excited to give up their juice

Destined to roil till they’re jam.

The berries tumble into the pan

Sugar plum fairied, ready to dance

Their dresses flounced brightly with puce

The berries tumble in the pan

So ready to give up their juice

 

———- the Jam Goddess as poet

 

Crabapples

I get a lot of requests for crabapple jelly.  Last year, I sold out in the middle of the Christmas season so I thought I’d make more this year.  My faithful helper Caitlin (also my beloved niece) and I booked a picking day.  We went out to Okotoks – a nice couple there lets us pick their tree.  Their son-in-law is an arborist and trims the tree yearly so it yields like a real working tree would in an orchard.  The branches were heavily laden.  We picked 2 1/2 large bins.   Caitlin was sure it was the same amount we’d picked last year – I thought it was perhaps twice as much.

I had been at a funeral two weeks prior and noticed they had a great tree.  I called and received permission to pick there.  So we went and picked everything we could reach which was easily another bucketful.   I started processing soon after and by the time I was done straining the juice, I had filled three 8 litre buckets and my huge canner (probably 15 litres).  This seemed like more than I’d had last year.  Yes.  Yes it was.  By the time I was done making jelly for 11 hours, I had 225 jars.  Yikes.

That night I wrote an email to my supplier asking him if he knew the variety of tree it was.  He wrote back saying he didn’t know but he’d picked the rest of the apples (the high ones) and would I like them.  I had to drive out and give them a big jar of jelly in any case.  When I got there, he handed me two huge bags.  Turned out to be 35 more pounds of apples.  I did some internet research and found a crabapple butter recipe.  It is delicious – 35 lbs of apples yielded 45 jars (would have been more but I burned one batch).

 

I often wondered why people didn’t use their crabapples themselves.  I suppose the answer is that no family can eat 225 jars of jelly and 45 jars of butter in a year.

 

An Ode to Raspberry Chocolate Jam

Recently, I gave a small jar of jam to a wonderful woman named Tasha who works with me. I left it for her on the desk wrapped in a piece of paper.  The day she got it, I received this poem on my FB Page.

Jam goddess, Jam goddess you are so nice

And simply saying “thank you” would not suffice.

Imagine if you will my utter delight,

To find on my evening shift, some jam in my sight!

Unwrapping the paper, I squealed with glee

“Irene made raspberry chocolate jam just for me!”

Looking to my left after scrambling for a spoon,

I saw a hungry psych resident contemplating its theft!

Another spoon was found and we each gave it a try,

And after we had a taste, we both let out a happy satisfied sigh.

Thank you Irene 🙂