“All the cabbages in our garden are robust and green to the core;
All the peppers are dead and black, not red anymore.
The onions are thriving, the tomatoes all gone,
The lettuce is rising, the pecans all stored;
It’s wet now in Red Bluff, Winter’s knocking at the door.”
– Mike Garofalo, Cuttings
Winter has definitely arrived. You will notice flocks of starlings, redwings, fieldfares and other birds around the remains of the orchards and as the days become noticeably shorter and frosts become more frequent the bats, hedgehogs and dormice will be forced into hibernation.
Although Spring seems to be the busiest time, late autumn and winter are vital times in the garden and what is done in the next few months will set you up for the coming year. The more jobs you can achieve now the better off your garden will be. However, there are still a few plants in flower in the borders and in milder areas there are still fruit to be harvested and vegetables to be dug.
I was clearing a garden getting it ready for winter last week. Having chopped down some Montbretia leaves huddled below a massive Fuscia I came across a little quince bush covered in fruit. Quinces are not widely grown, one of the reasons being that they need warmth in late autumn for the fruit to ripen. These were quite yellow and so I picked them and brought them home. I had never made Quince Jelly before so decided to have a go – it was a really quick and easy preserve to make and the result was very tasty. I now have something delicious and homemade to serve with cheese at Christmas.
Once upon a time quince was considered a staple in kitchens around the world, now it has been demoted to a specialty item. They resemble lumpy, yellow pears. Their skin may be covered with a woolly down or may be smooth depending on the variety. However, they are all aromatic giving off a different musky-wild tropical like perfume. They are astringent and sour and the flesh cannot be eaten raw. When cooked the white flesh develops into a rich flavour and the fruit turns, again depending on the variety, to a pale apricot or deep red colour. They are rich in fibre and provide a moderate amount of Vitamin C and potassium.
Quince have a high pectin content which makes them ideal for jam, jelly, conserves, fruit leather and confectionary. They can be poached with wine and vanilla beans or cooked down with sugar until solidified into a paste which like the jelly is great served with cheese. Quince plays quite a confectionary role in Moroccan, Persian, Romanian and Balkan cuisine, where they are added to meat stews and often roasted by the meat. It was referred to as “melimelum” by the Romans, which is a Greek name meaning “honey apple” as the fruit was preserved in honey for jam. The Portuguese called it “marmelo” and produced a confection called “marmelado”.
The Greek name “cydonia” became “cotogna” in Italian and “coing” in French. Then Chaucer wrote of “coines”, a word that later became “quince” – phew! However, it is believed to be native to Iran and the botanical name is ‘Cydonia oblonga’, derived from an area in Crete.
I recommend you have a go at Quince Jelly if you come across any in anybody’s garden or at a farmer’s market.
I took my bowl of quince, put them in a large saucepan and just covered them with water. As I have mentioned before I do like ‘sour’ and the recipe I found suggested adding the juice of a lemon for the sharper flavour – I didn’t have a lemon but I had a lime so that’s what I added. (NB: the lemon/lime juice is not necessary as quince is high in pectin.)
Bring the pan to boil and continue to simmer until the fruit breaks apart. When the fruit was soft I strained it through a jelly bag over a large bowl and left it overnight.
Next measure the juice you have collected. (Important: remove the jelly bag without squeezing the contents as this will make the jelly cloudy.) For each 600ml of juice use 450g sugar (preferably warmed in the oven for about 20 minutes). Over a gentle heat melt the sugar in the juice and bring to the boil – let it boil quite rapidly – I think it is called a rolling boil – for about 20 minutes. I put a small plate in the freezer before I started – after 20 minutes take the syrup off the heat and put a small spoonful on the freezer plate and leave to cool for a few minutes – then push it with your finger- if it wrinkles it is ready to set. If this doesn’t happen just boil it again for another five minutes and test again. Because of the high pectin content it should be just fine. Remove from the heat and spoon off any scum from the boiling and pour into sterilized jars.
So easy for a preserve and when cool have a taste – I was amazed and I am looking forward to sharing it at Christmas.
Have a go – it is well worth it.
Did you know?
- You may have guessed this one already – Quince preserves are the ancestors of modern jams and marmalades. The Portuguese quince preserve ‘marmalada’ was the original marmalade.
- Quince is one of the earliest known fruits. The fruit is golden yellow and in Greek mythology, the ‘golden apple’ of Hesperides given by Paris to Apphrodite is thought to have been a quince. Native to the Middle East, it is also one of the candidates as the apple in Biblical references. Since ancient times quince were a symbol of love and happiness, and in the Middle Ages they were used at wedding feasts.
- In the famous children’s poem, The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear (1871), “they dined on mince and slices of quince.