At the turn of the century Novato, California was a remote Marin County outpost where dairies, poultry, and groves of fruit trees outnumbered the town’s inhabitants. Today, pavement and neighborhoods fill this bustling Bay Area suburb where I live with my family.
Our home sits smack dab in the middle of what was once an abundant orchard owned by an Italian immigrant farmer named Pete Mazzini. In its heyday, fruit trees flourished here as far as the eye could see. Though long past their prime, a few abandoned and long-forgotten trees from that era can still be found along local creeks and in scattered undeveloped lots.
Not long ago, I came upon one such fruit tree–a lone wild quince. It was a forlorn vestige of a bygone time rising from a tangle of overgrown weeds and poison oak. I was out for a morning walk when I spied its unkempt branches straining under the weight of beautiful, large yellow fruits. The dangling specimens resembled a pear-apple cross coated with downy fuzz.
I ran home, grabbed a bag, and returned to gather the bounty. Quince is hard to find at our farmers market, and I have yet to see fresh specimens in grocery stores.
Though the hard, highly astringent flesh of most varieties is inedible raw, quince transform when cooked. They are naturally high in pectin, which makes them an ideal choice for jelly making. Last Thanksgiving, my dear friend Penny presented me with a jar of her homemade quince jelly. The clear, amber-colored preserve smelled of flowers and citrus. It was a delicious toast topper and an unexpected complement to our holiday turkey. It vanished in the blink of an eye.
Though I often make fruit jam, I have shied away from making jelly because of the time involved. Nature’s gift of wild quince was just what I needed to spur me on. The “fruits” of my labor were well worth the effort.
Should you have the good fortune to find fresh quince, this jelly recipe will definitely do them justice.
Quince Jelly (makes 4 to 5, 8 oz. jars)
*Printable Recipe Farminista’s Quince Jelly
15 fresh large quince; washed and unpeeled
4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon butter
(2) Large stockpots
16 oz. capacity glass measuring cup
8 oz. canning jars with lids
- Roughly cut the whole quince into chunks (core and all!). Place chunks in a large stockpot and fill with water to just cover the fruit.
- Bring fruit mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 60 – 75 minutes, until the fruit softens and breaks apart easily. Use a potato masher to further crush the fruit. The mixture will be thick.
- Remove from heat. Hang clean jelly bags securely over bowls or pots. Spoon cooked mashed fruit and juice into the bags. Allow to drain overnight.
- Pour the collected juice into a large glass measuring pitcher. The yield should be 4 cups of cloudy, peach-colored juice.
- Pour juice into a large stockpot with 4 cups raw, organic sugar. Cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring gently to dissolve sugar. Add a teaspoon of butter to the mixture to discourage foam. Use a skimmer to remove any remaining foam that collects on the surface.
- Increase heat and bring to a boil. Cook for seven minutes, and skim off any foam that collects on the surface. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue simmering for 15 – 25 minutes more, or until a candy thermometer inserted into the liquid registers the proper set point (210*F). The jelly will gradually thicken and turn a clear amber color.
- Remove from heat and immediately ladle into warm, sterilized canning jars. Wipe the jar rims clean with a damp cotton cloth and screw the lids on tight.
- Place filled jars into a hot water bath (cover completely with water) and boil for 10 minutes. Use a jar lifter to remove the processed jars from the hot water, and place on a kitchen towel to cool. You will hear the lids “pop” which means they are successfully sealed! When cooled to room temperature, place in a cool dark place and consume within six months.