I hate to let autumn go by (or any other season really) without a stock of preserves to casually bring out during the year . . . "oh yes, these are homemade." Usually I stay closer to the tried and true -- canned peaches for year round cobblers, tomatoes from the garden. This year I feel lonely for the unusual.
Last year around this time I made a quince cranberry compote for Thanksgiving. While it wasn't bad, it also wasn't the culinary triumph I'd envisioned. After peeling, chopping, and simmering the astringent fruit I was hoping for better. This year when quince showed up in our little local farmer's market I decided to give it another try.
Despite an ever growing stack of books on preserving there was little on quince besides jelly (and only 2 of those) so it was time for the internet. I found two basic ideas. One where the fruit is grated (peel and all) and cooked with sugar and lemon for jam, and another where peeled chunks are simmered until soft then drained, puréed, and cooked with sugar and lemon. The second method had the advantage of leaving behind the liquid to be drained for jelly. What is any normal over energetic cook to do? Try all three of course.
Despite having worries about it, the shredded method yielded a lovely, glistening orange-pink liquid. Although mild yellow when raw (like their cousin the apple), quince turn red as they cook -- the longer they cook the redder they are (think of membrillo). I'm told that even as preserves age in the jar they will veer more and more towards pink.
The simmered fruit made a less beautiful jam, about the consistency of apple sauce but still flowery and sweet.
The jelly became my nemesis. Quince are said to have ample pectin (also like apples) to set jelly with no added thickener. Unlike my usual slap dash cooking I followed the jelly making instructions to a T, cooking the mixture just to 220º (8 degrees above boiling water -- the jelly set temperature) and quickly ladled into sterilized jars (with Ball's new "platinum silver" lids -- not a fan) and sealed in a boiling water canner. And yet, 24 hours later I had enough quince syrup for a mountain of pancakes.
Back to the internet. On day two I re-boiled the un-jelled jelly with more sugar, lemon and -- I gave in -- commercial pectin. Now I have 13 jars waiting for labels.
Part two of the workload focused on the ripening hot peppers in our backyard garden. Another internet recipe but it already looks good. I boiled the peppers (with slits cut in them) in vinegar, water and spices, dried them off, and placed them in sterilized jars covered with olive oil. The directions, unlike any preserving instructions I have ever seen, said to let the jars cool in the canning water bath. On day 2 (although the oil was still a bit cloudy) we had 4 pints of cheery Christmas-colored peppers waiting for roast beef sandwiches and winter salads.
What's next? Chianti jelly to serve with parmesan cheese.