Making jam at home used to be commonplace, but the practice is in quick decline. Most people have forgotten the skills of their grandparent's generation, and have gotten used to buying everything rather than making it themselves. I think this is mainly due to the convenience factor. It used to be that people made things like jam, bread, and pickles themselves because it was a way to save money, but now I think the inspiration has shifted to the quality of the final product. This is true, at least for me.
I had never really given much thought to jam making myself until a recent visit to a friend's house down in San Diego. My girlfriend and I sat out on her back patio for breakfast, and ate toast with the most delicious homemade jam we had ever encountered. It was made from the yellow guavas that hung on the tree not far from where we were sitting, and I found myself eating it out of the jar with a spoon. My friend's mother, an Italian immigrant, had come to visit her daughter from Chicago and couldn't stand to see the fruit lying on the ground going to waste. She gathered up the fruit, and with her daughter's help, whipped up a large batch of the preserves in a single afternoon.
This was inspiring to me! I have always been a sucker for chemistry experiments, and I thought this one sounded doable. I looked around at various markets trying to locate some Mexican guavas, but my search yielded no fruit. What I did find though, were some fragrant yellow quinces almost (but not quite) too ripe for jam making, which begged to be rescued from a small bin at the Asian market down the street from where I live in Long Beach, CA. I took them home, and began my adventure into the world of jam making.
Warning to men: you may not hear the end of it if you develop a reputation for making preserves. My girlfriend loves to tell people how I stayed up almost all night cooking up a big pot 'o marmalade. I try to defend myself by explaining that I work on motorcycles during daylight hours.
I would venture to guess that the quince is the #1 under-appreciated fruit in the United States. It's name is rarely mentioned, and when it does come up, it's not always in a positive context. In an episode of The Simpsons, "Who Shot Mr. Burns, Part 1", Mr. Burns and Waylon Smithers end up eating an entire box of chocolates in one sitting, leaving behind and discarding only one piece: the sour quince log.
This negative bias against the quince is unfortunate because it is really a great fruit with a truly royal pedigree. Visit this site for a little history lesson on the life of the quince.
To me, it seems like alchemy the way these boring, tasteless fruit turn into the epitome of fruitiness after long and slow cooking. The word "marmalade", which most people are familiar with, originally meant quince jam, and derives from the Portuguese word for this fruit: marmelo. Give the quince a chance, and you might not regret it.
The following recipe is my variation of Betty Goldensohn's Quince Jam recipe found here.
-- Quince Jam
1. Wash and cut up eight (8) unpeeled firm green quinces into pieces about half the size of dice (I used a cheese grater on some, and diced the rest). Avoid yellow quinces which are overripe for this jam (they will work in a pinch, but use a little less sugar). Throw away core with seeds (don't eat the seeds as they are poisonous). Measure total amount of raw quince with a cook's scale.
2. Into a sturdy saucepan, add 1 1/2 parts quince to 1/2 part sugar by weight. I used piloncillo, a raw Mexican sugar with a high molasses content that comes in the shape of a cone, and is much more flavorful than white sugar. It almost tastes like maple syrup to me. You can also add a Tablespoon of lemon juice for each 4 pounds of quince to make it a little more tart.
3. Add 1/3 cup (2.5 ounces by weight) of water to the pot for each cup (6 3/4 ounces by weight) of sugar. Stir. Bring to boil and quickly turn down to low heat. You want a continuous low bubbling boil. Stir occasionally to prevent burning. Add a few tablespoons of water along the way if liquid gets very thick before turning red.
4. Cook down until quince turns deep red. This can take up to 2 hours. Resulting hot red liquid will be thicker than water but thinner than honey at this point. Perfect. It's done.
5. Ladle jam (still hot) into sterilized jars and follow standard canning procedures. I used Gulfwax to seal my jars after boiling them in water for about 10 minutes. Just read the instructions on the box of wax. Try this jam on toast, or as a condiment, like chutney with meats and poultry.
Note: Do not give away jars to people who do not love quince unless you have plenty, and would like to enlighten them.
Until next time,