I’ve been given some quinces (Cydonia oblonga). Once very popular, quinces have fallen out of favour and few people grow them, perhaps because the fruits, which look like small, irregular golden apples, are virtually inedible when raw – however, they are deliciously sweet and fragrant when cooked, and well worth the effort.
Native to Southwest Asia, Turkey and Iran, the quince tree spread to Greece and later to Europe and America. It is found in the lore of ancient Greece, Roman cookery, mediaeval English recipes and is still popular in Spain, France, and Portugal.
Quince was also used in medicine, with the fruits made into syrup and taken for diarrhoea, or the mucilaginous seeds taken internally treat diarrhoea and inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract.
In ancient Greece the quince was sacred to Aphrodite, goddess of love. The Greeks associated the fruit with fertility, and included it in wedding feasts. It’s possible that when ‘golden apples’ are referred to in Greek mythology, it is actually the quince which is meant. Remember the ‘golden apple’ inscribed with ‘for the fairest’ that Eris, goddess of discord, rolled into a gathering of the Gods that led to a dispute between the goddesses Hera, Aphrodite and Athena, who all tried to claim it? The mortal man Paris was chosen to judge the contest and the three goddesses all tried to gain his favour, but Aphrodite promised him Helen of Sparta for his wife, thus winning the apple and leading to the events which sparked the Trojan War.
And then there is the Japanese quince, also called ‘the flowering quince’ (Chaenomeles spp.), which I do grow, and which is commonly found in gardens as an ornamental bush covered in red blossoms that emerge before the leaves and last into May. This is related to the tree quince (Cydonia oblonga) and produces similar looking yellow fruits. Did you know these are also edible? Most people don’t. They make the most delicious jelly, just like the tree quince. Furthermore, they also have herbal uses as an analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, astringent and digestive.
Quinces (either true quince or Japanese quince)
Take the stalks from the quinces and chop them up roughly. Put them, pips skins and all, into a large pan. Just cover them with water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently until they break down into pulp. This may take up to around 45 minutes. Add more water if necessary.
Next you need to strain this – it is just the juice you want to make your jelly. You can suspend a jelly bag from a hook or beneath a chair and put the pulp in, and allow the liquid to strain into a large jug or bowl. This will take quite a while (you can leave it overnight) but do not squeeze the bag as this will force through fibres that will cloud the jelly.
When you have your juice, measure it into a large pan. For every pint (20 fl. oz.) of juice, add 1 lb. of sugar. Bring to the boil and continue boiling until the setting point is reached (see my previous post on plum jam).
Remove the pan from the heat and allow it to stand for a few minutes removing any scum that has formed on the surface. Pour the jelly into warmed, sterilised jars. Cover the surface of the jelly with a waxed disc and put on a lid or cellophane cover, held in place with an elastic band.
© Anna Franklin, August 2020