I’ve always gotten a kick out of “finding” food and turning it into something delicious like quince jelly. At my first sleep-away camp at age 7, my buddies and I plucked huckleberries from vines alongside a hiking trail. We proundly presented the hippy camp cooks (this was a self-sufficient organic farm camp in Northern California in the 1970s) with buckets of the tiny tart-sweet berries and they turned them into luscious pies and moist cakes topped with a crunchy sugar glaze. We were SO proud when they served them to the entire camp at dinner that night.
I once spent a week on a sailboat in the San Juan Islands where my companions and I tied old chicken legs into nets, tossed them into the water, and pulled up plump Dungeness crabs that we turned into scrumptious meal after meal washed down with refreshing gin and tonics, toasting our unbelievable good fortune. Now my family makes an annual pilgrimage to Tomales Bay to snag our share of the sweet dungies during the opening weekend of the sport fishing season. Again, the weekend is spent indulging and thanking the universe for delivering such a bounty.
Some fungus-loving friends taught me to forage for wild mushrooms—chanterelles, morels, porcini—and turn them into decadent toppings for toast or pizza, flavorful risotto, and rich pasta sauces. Many subsequent hours have been spent digging in the dirt on damp fall and winter days looking for the buried treasure, and more hours spent happily cleaning, cooking, and devouring the finds.
Now I live in a neighborhood resplendent with street-side fruit trees that drop their heavy, fruit-laden branches over the curb or fences that run along the sidewalk, much of the fruit wasted as it falls to the gutter and rots. One man’s trash and all that. In just a few square blocks of my home, I can pick Meyer lemons, black mission figs, Fuyu persimmons, apples, Asian pears, Santa Rosa plums, tangerines, oranges, grapefruit, pineapple guava, kumquats, and loquats.
This bountiful quince tree is in a backyard just a few blocks from my house. You can see it—and smell its sweet, flowery perfume—as you pass by on the Ohlone Greenway, the walking/running/biking path that runs underneath the BART tracks just behind the house. Each year for the past three years, my across-the-street neighbors and I have knocked on the door of the home and asked the gruff resident for permission to pick the fruit. He is a man of few words. “Go,” he says. “Pick whatever.” He has no idea what a trove of deliciousness he harbors.
This year, we picked more than 25 pounds in about as many minutes. Then I spent a lazy Sunday turning the haul into sweet, rose-colored quince jelly. While preserving of any kind sounds anything but lazy, this recipe involves much more sitting around waiting for the next stage (reading a good novel or watching trashy reality television if you’re lucky) than actual hands-on work. It’s a perfect lazy-day project.
- 7 pounds ripe quince, washed, cored, and cut into large chunks
- About 7 cups sugar (more or less depending on how much juice you end up with)
- 1 or 2 vanilla beans
- 1 lemon
- Put the chunks of fruit into a large pot and fill with water (the water should cover the fruit by about 2 inches if you push the fruit down with your hand). Place the pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for about an hour, until the fruit is very soft. (This is a great time to curl up with a good book, start binge watching the latest season of The Bachelor, or, you know, whatever it is that you do.)
- Once the fruit is very soft, mash it (in the pot of water) with a potato masher until all the big chunks have been squished. The consistency will be like a very runny applesauce. Run this mixture through a fine-meshed sieve into a large bowl or pot. You’ll likely have to do this in several batches. I ladle the mixture into a round-bottomed sieve and then use the bottom of the ladle to sort of smoosh it around the sieve, extracting as much juice as possible. Put the sieved solids in a separate bowl (you may want to run it through the sieve one more time). Continue this until you have sieved all of the mashed fruit mixture, then put the mashed fruit through the sieve a second time using the same method. Once you feel like you’ve gotten all, or at least most of the juice out of the mash, you can discard the mash. (If you don’t have a sieve, you can line a colander with cheese cloth. It’s a little messier, but the process is the same.)
- Rinse out the pot you used to boil the fruit. Measure the juice as you put it back into the pot. You should have about 8 cups of juice. For each cup of juice, add a little less than a cup of sugar. So if you have 8 cups of juice, you will add about 7 cups of sugar. Set the pot over high heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly until the sugar is dissolved. Reduce the heat a bit, but keep the liquid at a steady boil.
- Meanwhile, split the vanilla bean with a sharp paring knife and then use the blade of the knife to scrape out the seeds. Add the seeds along with the whole bean to the liquid in the pot.
- Use a vegetable peeler to peel 4 or 5 pieces of the lemon peel (using only the yellow part) and add them to the pot along with the juice of the lemon.
- Go back to reading your book or watching your show. Check on the pot and give it a stir every so often. You do need to make sure that it doesn’t boil over, so don’t go too far away.
- After a while, probably about 40 minutes to an hour, the liquid will be reduced and have begun to darken in color. This is when you should start testing for doneness. A good way to do this is to chill a metal tablespoon in the freezer or in a glass of ice water. Using another spoon, add about a teaspoon of the jelly to the chilled spoon and let it sit for a minute or so. You can also use a candy thermometer. I find that 221ºF is the sweet spot for me, but this will vary depending on your altitude (technically, your jelly’s setting point is 8 degrees above the boiling point of water. At an altitude below 1000 feet, water boils at 212º, so your jelly would set when it hits 220º. Since I live very close to sea level, this is just about right, although I always wait just until my thermometer hits 221º for good measure).
- While the jelly mixture is boiling, you can sterilize/heat up your jars. You can either put them in a pot of boiling water fitted with a rack for 10 minutes or put them in a 200ºF oven for 10 minutes. If you’ve already sterilized the jars (say, in the dishwasher), you could just pop them in the microwave to heat them up.
- You’ll also want to sterilize the lids and rings by putting them in a small pot of boiling water for about 10 minutes.
- Once the jelly is done, immediately ladle the hot jelly mixture into the hot jars. You can do this using a wide-mouth funnel and a ladle or you can put the jelly into a sterilized (heat-safe) pitcher and pour it directly into the hot jars. The pitcher method decreases mess and speeds up the process, so if you’ve got a pitcher that works, I highly recommend it. Either way, you want to leave about 5/8 of an inch of head space. Place a lid on top of each jar as soon as it is filled then follow with a metal ring, tightening to “finger tightness.”
- Let the jars sit undisturbed for at least 8 to 10 hours. You will hear popping as the lids seal. If any of the jars don’t seal (you’ll be able to tell by whether the button in the center of the lid is sucked down tight or not), just put them in the fridge and use them up sooner rather than later. The sealed jars can be stored in the pantry indefinitely.
Serving Size2 tablespoons
Amount Per Serving Calories 66 Total Fat 0g Saturated Fat 0g Trans Fat 0g Unsaturated Fat 0g Cholesterol 0mg Sodium 3mg Carbohydrates 17g Fiber 1g Sugar 13g Protein 0g