Quince, year two.

"Just one more week and things should slow down a little bit."  I think that has been my mantra since September 2nd when our school year began.  Instead of slowing down, we're spiraling head first into the holiday season and I know full well that when I have the time to blink twice it will be the new year.

For this monthly edition of trying to keep up with my food blog, I bring you quince.  This is the second year now I've had quince, and I had much more to use than last year.  When I picked them up from Klee's, they were already picked for a week and fully perfumed.  I read about storing them with the linens (along with using the spent fruit to make membrillo) in this very charming article.  Instead of a brilliant green, most of them were already bright yellow.  Being pretty new to this fruit, I wasn't sure how ripe they would get, how long they would hold.  I pledged to do my best to get them preserved as soon as I could, and 10 days later I made good on my promise.

Just the day before I got them, I learned that quince, along with their relatives apples and pears, are  related to roses - which is probably old news to you, but was a revelation to me.  I started to taste quince in a different way, I could feel the velvety rose petals ambling for my olfactories; I felt like I was dealing with flowers instead of fruit.

But meanwhile:  my 100th loaf of sourdough this year:

100 :: 11.07.14
I started my 2014 loaves project in January, not really sure how many loaves of sourdough bread I bake in a year.  Turns out it will be more than 100...

The one thing I wanted to make first with the quince this year was membrillo, the sliceable fruit paste made from naturally pectin-heavy quince pulp.  I made two batches, using different methods and (obviously) differently aged fruit.  The membrillo I made first with the just ripe fruit was redder and set more readily than the one I made more than a week later, but my variables were many so it's hard to say what factors played a part in it.  I set both experiments to gel in lightly oiled ramikens and pudding cups, and let them sit in the open air after unmolding them.  (The second batch had to spend a few hours in the dehydrator to become sufficiently cured.)


I'm very happy with my membrillo.  I wrapped each piece in waxed paper and layered them in a zip top bag.  I proactively bought myself a piece of manchego cheese to enjoy some with, but haven't made the time for making some fancy crackers - so my gourmet snack or appetizer is waiting for me to catch up I guess.

The second quince experiment came to me by way of Saltie - that cookbook crush that I've had since last spring that is still going strong.  Saltie candies quince to use in a quince lassi (yogurt, honey, candied quince??  I'm definitely in.), and it turns out that candying quince is about as effortless as it gets.  Except that I popped it into the low temperature oven too late in the day and had to set a night alarm to keep checking on it.  Now that the actual baby is sleeping pretty consistently through the night, I create the kitchen project that needs sporadic monitoring.  I don't really value sleeping through the night when I have the excitement of things like this.

candied quince.

The candied quince is a tad gritty - but in the way that a pear is a little bit gritty.  It's a pleasant gritty, and it's hard to stop nibbling after a single little cube.  The syrup is very thick (you can see it in the jar that I turned upside down), and it does have some movement.  I have the two jars stored in the fridge and as I think of them I keep turning them head over heels every few days.  I have not tried the lassi yet, but I will.  I've been trying hard to rein in my sweet teeth.  I've made more than one apple galette in the past two weeks.  I like to think I've gotten rather good at the galette; I barely use any sugar (and I never measure the dark brown that I use in it, only that I grab what I can with my thumb and 3 fingers and sprinkle it over the apples), then I add a few spoonfuls of applesauce and some cinnamon and nutmeg.  The applesauce in this one was spiked with quince.

apple(quince) galette.

When I got my haul of quince, I also got some more apples that I had destined for apple pie filling.  Omer's wife, Candy, freezes the peeled sliced apples with spices in portions enough for pies and that sounded pretty good to me.  But man if those apples didn't stand around the kitchen for a whole week, every day ticking by with me feeling more and more guilty that I hadn't tackled the lot of them and gotten them tucked into the deep freeze.  I finally conceded and just turned them into more sauce: but it was the best sauce ever because most of those apples were Belle de Boskoop variety, and I decided that I would call it my "reserve sauce" and add some spent quince pulp.  I have yet to can it - I have 4 quarts worth of sauce waiting for me... I think I'll schedule it for tomorrow evening if I can swing it.

The pulp for my reserve apple(quince)sauce came from making quince syrup.  Again, I made two batches, the first redder and maybe a touch more floral and the batch a week later less so, but still every bit as delicious.  I didn't mean to repeat myself, but I enjoyed the flavor of the syrup so much that I kind of had no choice.

quince syrup.

The last thing I made was quince jelly.  I used the fruits that had been at home with me for about a week, and the flavor of the jelly is probably a little milder than if I had used them at what I think might have been their peak of ripeness.  But the color and set of the jelly is so good that I don't care.

quince jelly.

It's like the palest champagne color, and so pretty that I forgave it for being a little too vigorous and boiling over (ALL over) my freshly detailed stove top.  (Note to self: stop being so cheap and invest in a 7 quart preserving pot.)  I quickly ladled out several scoops to a bowl (and even still had some boiling over...) and was so surprised when it set.  This little jar was the result of a very big mess, but I take some comfort in the 7 other perfect jars nestled on the canning shelf.  I'm going to have a lot of sweet stuff to work my way through this season!  Fortunately it will remind me of these busy fall days, the generosity of the orchard, the pleasure of learning new things, and enjoying the mess along with the organized.

Monday morning was chilly and I started my oven at a low temperature and roasted the last 6 quinces to make a jar of jam like I did last year.  I kept poking at them with a knife every so often, getting up from my coffee at the table where one son was doing school work, and the other was busy underneath with his own contrived works.  I wondered where I got so lucky to cultivate a home life like this, I wondered why it passes so quickly even when I try so hard to slow our lives down.  But winter will hopefully help me out with this, help us nestle in beneath the snow and not really need to go anywhere.  If winter is gracious, it will help us all in our patience and remind us of what now lines the basement shelves.

Reflections of Preserving Season

I keep saying I'm done, that I will not can any more this year.  I went so far as to send home all extra paper grocery sacks of clean pints and quart jars with my Mom when she last visited, an attempt at organizing my basement.  But maybe now I know I'm a true preservationist when the work is never fully done, maybe the nature of doing for yourself is a drug of sorts that I just can't kick.

seckel pears

Last week, a neighbor gave me some gorgeous seckel pears from a tree discovered in her parents yard.  I said I'd take some just for eating, but they were so good and they had so many that I ended up getting a few pounds to preserve.  Seckels seem to ripen faster than less petite pear varieties, and I set them up on a sheet pan for a few days to monitor their process.  I decided to try pickling some using Marisa's method over on Serious Eats, a pretty quick endeavor since the pears keep their stems and skins.  I used some raw sugar because I was out of granulated, but then made a series of errands to pick some up along with another flat of pint jars and some fresh pink peppercorns, star anise, and vanilla beans from the Spice House to do up a batch of Mrs. Wheelbarrow's spiced syrup version in the New York Times.

canned seckels
Marisa's pickled pears on the left, Mrs. Wheelbarrow's syrupy ones on the right.

The pears in syrup took awhile, especially with interruptions from the baby who would not succumb to sleeping.  More lessons in patience from the peeling of diminutive pears, trying to daintily finagle a 1/4 teaspoon to hollow out their seeded bellies - but worth it when I tasted the spiced syrup - which actually tastes exactly like a visit to the Spice House.  I didn't even mind that my 24 seckel pears only filled 3 pint jars and I had 3 pints of syrup that I canned up assuming that my pal Alanna would have a good idea for me on how to properly enjoy drinking it.

Prior to pear preservation, I made myself contend with the last 4 quinces that I was still debating what to do with.  This was the first year I've tasted quince, and I am completely hooked.  For some reason, I could hardly bring myself to do anything with the few of them I had, I so much enjoyed looking at them and smelling them, and really just living with them on my hutch counter for a few weeks...

(On the left there is a pawpaw!  The first one I've ever tasted... more here.)

Instead of deciding on any proper preserving of them, I ended up doing two batches of them the same way:  roasting them in a 320 degree oven for a couple of hours until the skin blistered, cooling them to the touch, then peeling, coring them, and carefully slicing them into fat pieces.  I made two piles on my counter, one of the sliced pieces that maintained their shape, and another of those that were too mushy to look attractive.  Then I made a syrup of equal parts sugar and water (600 g. of each, which was plenty).  The nice slices simmered away in the syrup for 30 or 40 minutes until they turned a more uniform color (the roasting left them unevenly colored) and were infused with sugar syrup.  The mushy pieces I put into a smaller sauce pan and simmered with ladles of the ample sugar syrup.  I mashed casually every so often with a potato masher, and added syrup as it was needed, all the while sneaking spoonfuls of hot quince for myself which felt as autumnal and comforting as adding another down blanked to the bed.  (I found the idea here.)

quince preserves.
quince preserves.

While I didn't bother canning this proper, I'd imagine 10 minutes in a hot water bath would do the trick.  So far, I'm having some really good morning snacks of toast, a pretty amazing grilled cheese with havarti and quince slices, and last week I made David Leibovitz's whole wheat croissants - which I'm pretty sure these quince preserves were born to marry.  I was also left with a bottle of quince syrup when I strained out my slices.  I'm not sure what to enjoy it with first... maybe rice pudding or some vanilla bean ice cream?  The quince was so delicious that I couldn't bring myself to add any aromatics at all to the simmering pots; these are all made just simply of quince, sugar, and water.  Similarly, I think I could almost just enjoy this by the shot glassful.

quince syrup

Monitoring the simmering quince left me plenty of time to think about all of the free fruits and berries I found close to home this year, not to mention the beginning of a relationship with a wonderful, old-fashioned orchard (Klee's Out on a Limb).  There were sour cherries from a friend of a friend, and more from neighbors who dropped them off when the baby was just weeks old.  Pints of mulberries from trees walking distance from my house, and the happy discovery late in the season of a white mulberry tree that I'll keep my eye on for next year.  Tart crabapples found on a walk just a week or so ago that made their way into applesauce and the more than one neighbor who offered me pears.  When farm markets were more difficult for me to visit at the peak of the season this year, there were also neighbors with ample vegetables to share.  (An amazing end-of-season green tomato sauce courtesy of plentiful green tomatoes from across the street.  Click here and read the comments to find a simple but delicious recipe.)  All in all, so many delicious things gracing my shelves to be thankful for as we head into the most thankful part of the year!