I was watching food historian Ivan Day make an apple and quince tart on a television cookery programme the other day. Instead of fresh quinces, he used a preserve, the idea being that our ancestors would use it to add the fruit’s flavour long after its harvest season had passed.
It’s a notion that still holds good today. Quince flesh breaks down during freezing and won’t hold its shape in subsequent cooking. I’ve used a frozen, sweetened quince purée successfully in pies and tarts in the past but I liked the idea of chunks of preserved fruit with added jammy sweetness.
I have no idea how Ivan Day made his but this is what I came up with. I was aiming for a flavour that evoked medieval recipes so I included cinnamon, allspice and cloves. The quantities I’ve used give a lightly-spiced preserve, so add more if you want a stronger flavour or leave them out altogether for a straightforward quince jam.
This bears no resemblance to Ivan Day’s quince preserves but it is delicious beyond words: deep amber in colour with (I think) the perfect balance of sweetness and acidity and suffused with that heavenly quince perfume.
I’ll be trying out a version of the apple pie on Friday – watch this space.
6-7 medium quinces
Juice of 2 lemons
Sugar (see recipe)
1 litre of water
For the spice bag:
1/2 stick of cinnamon
6 allspice berries
Squeeze the juice of one lemon into a bowl big enough the hold the sliced quinces and add a good splash of water. Wash the fluff off the quinces then peel, quarter and core them, reserving the cores. Slice the quince lengthways and toss in the acidulated water. When you’ve done them all, top up the water so the quince slices are covered, to prevent them browning.
Put the cores with a litre of water in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Put on a lid at a tilt and simmer for one hour, then strain, reserving the liquid. Most of the pectin is in the cores and this will help your jam to set.
Drain the quince slices and weigh them. Put them in a pan with an equal amount of sugar and quince water (weighing it is easier than doing liquid measures here). So if you have 500g of quince, use 500g each of sugar and quince water. Add the spice bag and the juice of the second lemon.
Bring to a boil and then simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the quince is soft and has reddened and the jam is at setting point. Larger quantities may take longer.
To test this, put a spoonful on a chilled saucer and if after a few minutes it wrinkles when you push it with your finger, it’s ready. Ladle into warmed, sterilised jars and seal straight away.