When Life Gives You Quince . . .
. . . make quince pectin! Years ago I planted a Japanese quince in my garden. While my main goal was to attract hummingbirds with its early-blooming red flowers, I began to wonder if the fruits of their pollinating labor were useful as well.
Searching on the internet, I didn’t find much hope, as various sites defined the fruit of the Japanese variety of quince as inedible. Upon further investigation, I’ve come to find that those sources really meant “unpalatable” as opposed to “inedible”. That is a huge difference! Quince fruit are best described as tasting like a mixture of green apple and lemon. They are just slightly less tart than a slice of lemon. I can just barely eat them slowly, a slice at a time, but then I’ve been known to eat lemon when I have a nasty cold. Also in high school I was addicted to those crazy Japanese sour lemon candies. All that natural sour fruitiness has its pluses – quince are high in vitamin C. Not only that, quinces are much higher in pectin than sour apples.
There is rumor that quince was the alluring apple from the garden of eden.
And here I was bemoaning the fact that I didn’t have an apple tree, after I read that I could make pectin out of green apples. Meanwhile my quince fruits were plumping up and ripening to a lovely chartreuse. What could I do, but immediately pluck a few and commence pectin extraction.
See I’m one of those crazy purist types who refuses to buy commercial pectin to add to homemade jam to ensure jelling. Many fruits can be made into jam without added pectin, however I’ve found that when making nearly seedless blackberry jam, I don’t get jelling, despite the supposedly high pectin content of blackberries. Apparently I’m too much of a perfectionist when it comes to picking blackberries, because the riper berries contain less pectin. So inevitably I’m enchanted with the idea of making my own pectin from a natural source, and especially thrilled that I can use an otherwise “unpalatable” fruit growing organically in my backyard.
The only change I made to accommodate the quince fruit in place of the apple, in this pectin recipe, was to cut the quince into sixths instead of eighths, because the quince are notably smaller. Of further note, I used a mixture of semi-ripe and ripe quince, whereas if you are using apple you’ll want to use strictly under ripe fruits.
For every pound of washed and sliced apple, add 2 cups of water and combine in a large pot. Cover pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Fruit should be tender. Cool to a workable temperature.
Pour the contents of your pot through a jelly bag, cheesecloth or a clean kitchen towel, into a large bowl. Gather the corners of the cheesecloth or towel and tie to a knob, faucet, or somewhere you can leave it suspended over the bowl over night. [note: after some deliberation I chose to use my standing blender and the blender bowl].
The next day pour the juices from the bowl into a suitably sized pot. Note the level of the liquid in the pot (either measure it or just eye it if you feel confident you will remember). Boil over high heat and cook until reduced by half. [note: my pectin left a mark where it began evaporating from, so it was fairly easy to tell when it was half reduced, even without measuring]. Cool and then either refrigerate and use within 4 days, or freeze for up to 6 months.
In an old canning booklet, I read that you should use 1 cup of apple pectin for every cup of fruit juice when making jelly. However, if the fruit you are using has good pectin content, you can probably get away with less. For reference, I used 1 ¼ pounds of quince fruit and got about ½ cup of quince pectin.