This year our 3 year old quince tree delivered a respectable 12 quinces which is a vast improvement on the 2 that I had last year. Their ripening however coincided with the great archaeological dig starting on our house so they were picked and flung into the fridge in our temporary digs. They keep very well, but the beloved husband was fed up with the fridge space they taking up and in any case they needed using up or they would have ended up a brown and soggy mess.
There are some lovely tarts and crumbles that can be made from Quinces but baking of that sort is off the cards at the moment so I had to find alternatives. I stumbled upon this french recipe which I thought would be a very nice alternative to shop bought mincemeat. It is packed with dried fruits and nuts, has a wonderfully rich flavour and whilst for the French this is a jam to be had with baguette, this also makes a great substitute for mincemeat and in our case it is destined for Mince Pies, very much an English tradition, at Christmas .
This recipe uses quinces but they are hard to get hold of. You can substitute with cooking apples and pears and get just as nice a result (so I am told). But do try to use quince if you can, They add a special flavour and best of all at the end of making this jam you are left with Quince puree – ideal for making membrillo (or Quince Cheese in the Anglo Saxon vernacular).
If you haven’t made jam before don’t worry. This does not require quite the same precision of getting the right “set” that fruit jam needs. To get this right you ideally need a sugar thermometer but you can do without. Other than that you need to have saved up 9 clean jam jars and good quality lids and have a good sized sauce pan.
- 9 jam jars and lids
- sugar thermometer
- large saucepan and spoon
- sieve and muslin cloth
Sterilising your jars
The best way to do this is to put the jars and the lids into an oven at 140C/120C fan for 15 minutes at least. They should come straight out of the oven and be filled so don’t worry if they are in the oven longer.
When is jam done
Jam sets because the fruit has pectin in it and the temperature of the jam reaches 104C. What this really means is that the right amount water has been driven off to allow the jam to coagulate, but not so much that it is a sold thick paste. You can also do the famous wrinkle test whereby you spoon some of the mixture onto an ice cold plate, put it in the freezer for a few minutes and then push your finger through it to see if it wrinkles slightly. It usually takes 20 -30 minutes to get to this point and be sure to stir your jam all the time (especially important when taking the temperature as otherwise it will burn on the base).
- 2 kg fresh quince or Bramley apples and pears or a mixture of both
- 2 litres of water
- 1 kg granulated sugar (though I think this could be dropped to 800g)
- 200g dried pineapple
- 200g dried figs
- 100g dates (stones out)
- 100g dried prunes (stones out)
- 200g dried apricots
- 100g raisins
- 100g mix candied lemon and orange peel
- 50g dried cranberries
- zest and juice of 1 orange
- zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 150g walnuts pieces
- 150g whole blanched almonds, roughly chopped
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
- 1/2 ground star anise
You need some time for this as you need to soak some of the dried fruit for 4 hours before making the jam.
Soaking the fruit
- cut the dried pineapple into slices and place in a bowl
- soak in the quince water (see next step) for 3-4 hours or overnight
Preparing the quinces/fruit to extract the juice
- wash the fruit
- cut into quarters (no need to remove the core)
- place in a large pan with water
- bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes until soft
- strain through a colander
- then strain the juice through a sieve covered on a muslin cloth to remove any remaining bits
- pour over the dried pineapple
- press the soft fruit through a sieve and set the puree aside especially if it is quince – it can be used in tarts, fruit cheeses (membrillo), ice cream or souffle
Making the jam
- cut the apricots, dates and prunes into 3mm wide strips and place in a large pan
- add the rest of the dried fruits, zest, spices, orange and lemon zest
- finally add the pineapple and quince/apple water to the pan
- bring to the boil and then simmer stirring all the time
- when the temperature reaches 100C add the chopped nuts
- continue to heat until it reaches 104C and test the jam is ready using the wrinkle test (see above)
- take off the heat
- ladle into jars
- fit the lid tight, wipe clean and allow jars to cool
- label with suitably christmassy labels