Along the Grapevine


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Japanese Quince Paste

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Japanese quinces of varying colours, sizes and shapes, all from one plant

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.

Japanese  Quince Paste on Punk Domestics

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.

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Young quince shrubs in a pot

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.

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Cooked Japanese quinces in a food mill

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Strained quinces

Japanese Quince Paste


Ingredients

Japanese quinces, chopped  in quarters (I used about 4 cups)

Water

Vanilla pod

honey or sugar

Method

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.

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Quince paste cooling

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Quince paste with cheddar cheese

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.


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Japanese Quince Jelly and Chutney

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chaenomeles Wikipedia

I am well accustomed to cooking with quinces, but when we moved here it was difficult to find a source. So I decided to try some Japanese quinces (chaenomeles) from those ornamental shrubs which are quite common in local gardens. Although I don’t have any of my own, most people are only too  happy if you volunteer to remove them in October when they start littering the ground around them. So, thanks Connie for my supply this year.

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They are smaller than the tree variety (true quince or Cydonia oblonga), and have a large centre full of seeds resembling apple seeds. The taste is very lemony – more so than lemons. Wherever you store them will soon become permeated with the most heavenly scent, and they can be stored in a cool place for several weeks. They can be used pretty much in any regular quince recipe. For centuries they have been used in Asia for medicinal purposes, and recent studies confirm this. For more about the nutritional and medicinal value, check out this site.

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With my small stash I made a jelly and a chutney. There seems to be some doubt as to the value of the fruit as a jelly, but I suspect people who claim that have never actually tried it. I find the flavour delicious on its own, but if you want to experiment, a little orange or chilli or whatever you might add to apple would work well. Also, even though they are rock hard, preparing them was not a big chore.

Japanese Quince Jelly

Japanese quinces, quartered (no need to peel, discard seeds or membrane)

water

sugar

Place the cut quinces in a pan and barely cover with water.

Bring to a boil and simmer for about two hours. Mash lightly with a fork.

Strain the compote through a cheesecloth lined sieve and let sit overnight, or at least a few hours.

Pour the liquid into a pan and add the same volume of sugar.

Cook slowly (about 1 1/2 hours) until it is ready.

Skim off the frothy bits as it heats, and keep a close watch.

I usually overcook jelly, so I tested a small amount of liquid on a plate straight from the freezer. When it stays in one place you know it is ready.

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I am more a chutney than a jelly fan, so I used the remaining pound of quinces to make some. I never follow recipes for chutney. To me, chutney is a way to use up excess fruit, just mixed with vinegar, sugar and spices. It is pretty hard to go wrong. And you have one of the most useful staples in your fridge to show for it – as a condiment, in a cheese or grilled vegetable sandwich, mixed with yoghurt or mayonnaise for a dip, or just with crackers and cheese.

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Japanese Quince Chutney

1 lb quince, seeded and chopped.

3/4 lb onions, finely chopped

1/2 lb brown sugar

1 cup cider vinegar

some raisins (optional)

chilli peppers, or chilli flakes to taste.

Place all ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer until thick (about 2 hours on a low heat).

I used two whole cayenne peppers, with seeds, chopped very finely. But the variety and amount are your call.