My mother’s quince jelly

In response to Homepaddock, and for my mother.

Since writing this post, my mother and I have made quince jelly together. If you are going to use this post to have a go at making quince jelly yourself, then it would be worth reading my post about the experience of making jelly with Mum, and Mum’s list of instructions and tips and hints.

A few weeks ago, the children in my Misses Seven’s class were learning ‘qu’ words. Queen, quoll, quiet, quince. “Quince,” said the children. “What’s a quince?”

So I found some quinces in the Adelaide Central Markets, and took them into school so the children could see what a quince looks like.

quince

But afterwards, what to do with three beautiful quinces?

Make jelly, of course.

In past years, I have often had jars of quince jelly in my pantry, ready for use on scones or in gravies, or even in indulgent moments, on toast for breakfast. They were supplied by my mother, who makes superb jellies. She has even been known to make jelly out of these:

rosehips

Because she can. Alas, since we moved across the Tasman, my quince jelly supply has been cut, because Customs get a bit sniffy about foodstuffs coming into Australia (as do NZ Customs – it’s a two way street, or to be more precise, a two way road block). So this year, I have made my own.

I looked up Stephanie Alexander’s recipe, which looks wonderful, but it called for me to bake the quinces in a light sugar syrup for about four hours, and that just wasn’t in me. So I called my mother, and asked for her recipe instead (I don’t think Stephanie Alexander would mind: she writes lovingly about her mother and how much she learned from her – click on ‘my mother, Mary Burchett‘).

Making jelly is a two day process. On the first day, you prepare the juice for the jelly, and on the second day, you make it.

First, I washed the quinces, and then cored them, and chopped them into slices, about 1 to 2 cm thick. However quinces are not high in pectin, the chemical that helps jams and jellies to set. So on Mum’s advice, I also washed, cored and chopped up a couple of smallish apples. Mum says to use old-fashioned cooking apples if you have them on hand, but I didn’t, so I just used Pink Ladies instead. Lemon juice would help too, if you don’t have apples. Don’t peel the fruit – the skin is high in pectin. And probably it would be better to just leave the cores in too.

I put the fruit in a saucepan, covered it with water, and brought it to the boil and then let it simmer gently for an hour or so, until the quince was very soft, but not mushy.

Then came the first tricky bit. You need to drain all the juice out of the fruit, as much as possible, and you need to make sure that you’ve got all the last little pectin and sugar carrying drips of it. So you put the cooked fruit into a jelly bag, and hang it up somewhere to drip over night. I don’t have jelly bags, and I don’t even have old flour sacks, which is what I recall my mother using when I was a child. But Mum doesn’t have old flour bags these days either, so she just uses a clean old pillow slip. It’s worth waiting for the fruit to cool a little first, or you could end up scalding yourself.

Boil the kettle, and pour the hot water over your jelly bag pillow slip. Then sit the jelly bag inside a large bowl or a large saucepan, and carefully pour the stewed fruit and all the juice into it.

Next, if you don’t have three hands, enlist the help of your partner, or a child, or even a neighbour. Tie the mouth of the jelly bag up with string, and then loop the string over a hook and suspend the bag over the large bowl, or large saucepan. It’s worth putting the bowl or saucepan directly under the hook you are planning to use before you do this. Get your helper to steady the bag while you tie the string onto the hook, and pull the bag high enough so that it is out of the juice, but not so high that it will swing away from the bowl. You are aiming to get all the juice dripping into the bowl, not splattering onto the kitchen floor.

jellybag

I happen to have a handy hook above my kitchen window sill. If you don’t have such a convenient hook, then you can suspend the jelly over a broom handle which is set over two chairs, but this is a technique best reserved for households without small children or pets.

Next day, get yourself ready to make the jelly. Shoo the children outside, or off to school, and make sure that you have a couple of hours clear. You will need some clean glass jars. If you have been especially well organised, you will have put them in the dishwasher the previous night. You need to sterilise the jars, which I find is easiest to do in the oven. Put 3 or 4 jars, or however many you think you will need, inside a cake tin, and put them in the oven. Heat the oven to about 150 degrees celcius (about 300 fahrenheit). Just leave the jars in there while you cook the jelly mix.

Remove the jelly bag, and DON’T be tempted to squeeze the last bits of juice out of it. If you do, your jelly will be cloudy. Either put the contents of the jelly bag into your compost bin, or use them to make fruit paste, though you will need to remove the cores and peels to do this, which is fiddly, unless you were incredibly well organised, and you peeled and cored the fruit before you started cooking it, but in order to get the pectin from the cores and peel, you put them into a muslin bag to cook up along with the flesh of the fruit (complicated!).

I went for the simple compost option this time, but maybe next time… Put the juice into a saucepan, measuring how many cups of juice you have as you go. I had about 3 cups. Then measure out the sugar. Mum says that my grandmother used to use 1 cup of sugar for each cup of juice, but she uses about 1/2 to 2/3, depending on how sour the apples are. I used a scanty 2/3 cup of sugar for each cup of juice.

Put the sugar into a baking dish, and pop it into the oven along with the jars, so that it starts to warm through. Then bring your juice to the boil. Once it has come to the boil, take the sugar out of the oven, and stir it into the juice. Mum says that heating it first means that you don’t slow the boil down as you add it to the juice.

At this stage I called my mother for the first clarification. Should I have the jelly at a fast rolling boil, or a slow one? “A slow one,” she said.

Once the jelly mix is at a slow rolling boil, put two saucers in the freezer (trust me, or to be precise, trust my mum).

Mum says that you need to boil the jelly mix until it is glassy. Right… I called her again. “What do you mean, ‘glassy’?”

“Well, glassy,” she said.

“How long will that take?” I said.

“It varies so much,” she said. “It depends on the fruit you have used. It could be 15 minutes or it could be 30. Bother! I would so like to be there to do this with you, because it really is an experience thing. Just keep an eye on it, and when it looks glassy, it’s done.”

“Okay,” I said. I am a moderately experienced cook, so I thought that I could probably manage. But, “There’s a scum on the surface.”

“Ah,” she said. “I forgot to tell you about that. Stir the mix occasionally, so you don’t get any sugar crystals forming on the side. And you can get the scum to clear by dropping a nut of butter into the jelly, waiting for it to melt, and then clearing the scum to the side and lifting it out with a slotted spoon. You can do it several times if you like, but I usually do it just once, just after it has turned glassy.”

That glassy word again. The internet may have shrunk the tyranny of distance, but sometimes, being there really is so much better.

glassy

Eventually, the jelly mix started to look, well, glassy. At that stage, per Mum’s original instructions, I got one of the saucers out of the freezer, and put a little of the mix onto it. It was still quite runny, so I tipped it back in, cleaned the saucer and put it back into the freezer. I kept on boiling the mix, and testing it every few minutes on a chilled saucer. Eventually, I found that if I ran a teaspoon through the mix on the saucer, a line held there for a few moments. It was done.

I got the hot jars out of the oven, and put them on a hot mat. Then I poured hot water into a pyrex jug to warm it up. I took the jelly off the stove, and working very quickly, tipped the water out of the jug, dried it, then tipped some jelly mix into it. From there, using a teatowel to hold the jars so my hands wouldn’t be burned, I filled three little jars with the most gorgeous rosy coloured jelly. I set them aside to cool down, and then covered them with cellophane, and popped them well out of the way to cool right down.

jelly

And here they are. Beautiful. I have given a couple of them away, and I haven’t yet opened the third one. But I think it has set properly, because the dregs in the saucepan set well, and tasted delicious, sweet, but not too sweet, and a little tart.

I love the idea of having pickles and jellies and preserves on hand. They are good to have in the pantry for our own use, but I also like being able to give them to friends. And I would so love to be able to send a jar to my beloved mother.

Update: Should you have found your way here via a search engine or whatever, and be a little confused about what quolls are, check out this post by Barvasfiend: Quoll-loving.

And updated a little more to add some more instructions, following a session of making jelly with my lovely mother.

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18 responses to “My mother’s quince jelly

  1. Lovely! My nana used to make nice quince jelly too. I didn’t know that’s what quinces looked like. I think it all sounds like a bit too much arsing around for me although I am dying to make something again where I get to steralise jars (cause steralising jars makes me feel like an important cook). Although am thinking of maybe giving gougeres (sp??) a go tomorrow in the food processor…

    We got out jar of beetroot relish (from Smith the Grocer) confiscated when coming back from NZ last. Apparently even gourmet goodies clearly produced by a reputable food company (and with a ‘freshness seal’ on) can potentially contain explosive material. It made the Chairman sad.

  2. I haven’t done jam or marmalade for years, but this had stirred ambitions. Not promising anything, mind.

  3. Anybody remember Quincy conserve?

  4. Lovely post! And the jelly looks like nectar.

    On Stephanie’s mother, have you made the rabbit pie from the big Stephanie book? It is celestial. Tip, however: don’t bother with the fricken pastry recipe, which will make you cry. Just use basic shortcrust or bought frozen flaky or something. The point of that pie is the flavours in the filling.

  5. I have been stockpiling big old style preserving jars over the last year or so. I had made a rule that I wouldn’t pay more than one dollar each (Thats for classic Agee jars). Over the last three months I’v been finding it difficult to find them. The opportunity shop keepers tell me, that they are out the door almost as soon as they land. I see them selling for three dollars each on the Internet Auctions.

    The for the Quince story, I have my nostalgic memories of a tree, and its presiding old women as part of my to and from primary school walk memories. Somehow my big grandma features there by default. But she was more fig tree.

  6. Mmmmm…. Mums Quince Jelly……Yummm…

    @Steven I had a box of Agee jars about two years ago that I couldn’t even give away so they went out in the recycling. We have recently shifted into the place where I found them so if I find more I will contact you. Money is so trashy but jams, jellys and preserves are good currency.

  7. PC – I’ve just read the recipe, and it looks fabulous. I might have to hunt out (metaphorically, not literally) some boned rabbit meat and make it, perhaps for my mother when she comes over later in the year.

    Paul – yes, Mum’s quince jelly… one of the many tastes of home.

  8. bookmarked.

  9. Drool! Mum and both my grandmothers used to make this, and, as I remember, it’s best served on top of an obscenely large dollop of cream, on top of an obscenely buttery fresh scone.

    Bugger (a) cholestrol (b) the obesity police.

    I can’t wait to get back to NZ and make some myself.

  10. I loved reading this. It really made me miss my mother.

    And now, at the risk of sounding completely ignorant, a quince I was familiar with, but what on earth is a quoll?

  11. Quoll

    A small carnivorous marsupial, native to Australia and Papua New Guinea.

    Highly relevant to Australian children learning “qu” sounds. Maybe not quite so relevant to American children.

  12. I feel honoured to have been the recipient of one of your precious jars. I can feel the love that went into it. I have eaten myself silly on it. You have definitely inherited your mother’s skill for jelly making! :-)

  13. Thanks for the quoll link!

  14. It’s fall up here in Canada, so right now my house is filled with the gorgeous fragrance of quince bubbling away in water. First step of my quince jelly. I had lost my recipe, so I went online to find another and found your wonderful post. Just wanted to thank you and to offer a serving suggestion. Quince jelly makes a beautiful and highly complementary addition to a cheese plate. I like a plate that includes something nutty (like a swiss or port salut) something blue (Stilton!), something spreadable (camembert maybe… goat if you must), and some toasted baguette rounds. Put some cheese on a toast round and plunk a dollop of quince jelly on top. Delicious!

  15. I love fruit jellies and pastes with cheese, but I’ve never gotten around to putting some of my own jelly on a cheese platter, which is a very odd oversight. Many thanks for your lovely comments, and for your suggestion.

  16. just found 3 quince fruits and your recipe so i have added a few apples and am having a go
    i love quince jelly or any jelly for that matter
    planted a tree about 3 years ago but it didn’t make it
    also planted a medlar and it has born fruit so that will be my next jelly
    thanks

  17. I am currently performing in ARSENIC AND OLD LACE where quince jelly is referred to and I had to look it up ! This sounds wonderful and you have a natural knack for writing…I enjoyed the “story” as well as the recipe ! Thank-you!

    Laura, New York, USA