I posted two recipes last year using Japanese quince (chaenomeles) – for jelly and chutney. Both were delicious, and I hoped to find more of this wonderful, seldom-used fruit to continue experimenting with it.
The more traditional quince (cydonia oblonga) is not commonly used here, so it is no surprise that this Asian variety is even less popular. It is grown for its beautiful flowers early in the spring, and the fruit are usually left to fall and rot on the ground. If you have one of these shrubs, you could not be blamed for considering the hard, irregularly shaped fruit was inedible. But once cooked, its lemony flavour is apparent, and it can be used in any recipe calling for quince. Even raw, it has a wonderful scent.
If you don’t have one of these shrubs, you will have difficulty finding the fruits since they are not sold in markets, but it is not impossible. You may know someone who has the plant and will spare you a few fruits, especially if they don’t know how good they really are. They are such hardy little shrubs, they are sometimes left standing in what once was a garden and now abandoned. I am still in the position of having to collect them from other people’s gardens, but I did successfully germinate some seeds from last year’s bunch, and if they survive this winter outside (their first), I may have my own fruit producing bushes soon. And just in case, I am going to repeat the process again this year with some carefully preserved seeds.
I decided this time to make a quince paste – a popular dish of Spanish and Portuguese origin, usually made with the actual quince. Based on the success of the jelly I made, I found the level of pectin is very high, like in quinces, and just sugar, fruit and water are required for a well-set jelly. I decided to use honey instead of sugar, because with all the preserving and jelly making I’m doing, I’m using too much sugar. As I was not sure if this would work, I decided to make a small amount first, so used just half a vanilla pod. Now that first batch has been such a success, I might vary the recipe a little and try adding some other flavours, but meanwhile here is my recipe. Note, you do not have to peel or core them, just chop them in large bite-sized pieces.
Japanese Quince Paste
Japanese quinces, chopped in quarters (I used about 4 cups)
honey or sugar
Put the chopped quinces in a saucepan with a piece of vanilla pod and cover with water. Heat to boiling and then simmer until they are all fully cooked and soft, about 1/2 hour. Put them through a food mill. If using sugar, measure 1 cup of sugar for each cup of pulp. If using honey, use only 3/4 that amount because it is sweeter. Continue cooking on low heat, stirring often to avoid sticking. The mixture will thicken and get darker. After about 1/2 an hour to 45 min., the bubbles will become audible, and look sort of like lava in a volcano erupting.
At this point, pour it into a shallow pan lined with lightly buttered parchment paper and allow to cool.
Usually served with cheese (manchego in Spain), this sweet goes well with most cheeses. Or try it simply with toast for breakfast.
It can be kept for several weeks covered in the fridge, or wrap it and freeze it for longer to enjoy all winter long.