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Friday, November 2, 2007

They Dined On Mince And Slices Of Quince

A couple years ago I planted a quince tree in my yard. This was to appease me for the three apple trees and two fig trees that never bore fruit, a multitude of blueberry bushes and various and sundry other failed gardening exploits.

Last year there was a single quince fruit on the tree. A squirrel (or the brats next door) got to it before I did. This year there were about a half dozen fruits, large and small, that I was able to pick.

My plan was to make quince jam, something I have never tried. I had no trouble finding recipes. Perhaps the most interesting are those in a book called Seven Centuries of English Cooking. This book features recipes for foods that might have been prepared and eaten by anyone from King Richard II through Queen Elizabeth II and anyone in between. The quince recipes are numerous and complicated sounding - find the book at Amazon.com .

Nowadays, recipes use modern English and don't usually call for "butter the size of a walnut" or instruct the cook to ftir with a fpoon of woode. They're easier to understand but less fun to decode.
I've read that quince is the ancestor of apples and pears, and some believe it was the fruit that Eve ate on the sly in the garden. I don't know how, it's hard as a rock and not very good unless it's cooked with sugar. But I also read that there is a variety of quince that ripens soft and sweet so there you go.

I peeled my quinces, cut them into wedges and hacked out the seeds and core. You can tell they're related to apples although they have WAY more seeds and the "core" is more like a lot of separate cores all through the middle. I guess the recipes that ask you to tie the seeds in cheesecloth and cook along with the fruit are hoping you won't end up wasting half the good stuff.

Quince contain lots of pectin, which is what makes jams and jellies gel. Most of it is in the seeds and skins so I guess tossing those parts is about the same as cooking bacon and wasting 75% of what you bought by throwing out the grease (that's why I always save bacon fat and use it for cooking).

You can make your own liquid pectin for use in other jellies by boiling the seeds and skins in water and saving that for later. There are even recipes for making jelly from apple cores and skins when the apples were used for pie or other recipes. The thrifty housewife was careful not to waste anything.

I chopped my quince fine (not easy as it was really hard) and covered it with water, simmered about a half hour as instructed, then added the sugar and cooked it down into something that resembled chunky apple sauce. As it cooked it got a lot thicker than apple sauce and turned a golden amber color.

I poured it into jars and put them into the pot for processing. As always there was a little left over, which I put into a small jar to go right in the fridge. When I removed the jars from the canning pot about 15 minutes later, I found that the processed jam had turned a deep rosy peach color while the jam that was not processed remained golden. An interesting observation.

I left the jars to cool overnight and then removed the bands for storage. I made some toast and spread on some butter and some of the jam. It did not smell like apples. It smelled like roses and honey. The texture was thick and sticky. The "chunks" dissolved as I spread the jam with my knife.

I couldn't tell if I liked it or not. But the color was beautiful. I decided I would make jam tarts using a kolacky pastry and bake the tarts in my mini muffin pan. Here's the recipe.

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 small package (3 oz.) or half of an 8 oz. package cream cheese
1 cup all purpose flour

Let the butter and cream cheese stand in the bowl at room temperature until softened. Add the flour and beat to combine well.

Form the dough into a disk about an inch thick, wrap well and let rest about an hour.

You can roll the dough out about 1/8 - 1/4 inch thick and cut with a small circular cookie cutter, or you can form it into small balls and flatten each one. Use a mini muffin pan (the kind you might use to make mini quiche or those little pecan tarts that Bill's mom makes at Christmas). Press a dough circle into each muffin cup and bake at 325 degrees until golden. Allow to cool and remove from the pan. Fill each tart with a spoonful of quince jam or jam of your choice.

You can also use this dough to make kolacky or rugelach. For rugelach, form the dough into 2 disks and roll out into thin rounds. Brush each with melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Sprinkle on some chopped walnuts or pecans and cut into wedges like a pizza. Roll each up from wide end to center point and bake on a parchment lined sheet at 325 degrees until golden.

For kolacky just cut the dough into squares or rounds, place a dab of jam in the center, fold two sides or corners into the center and pinch to seal, and bake as above. Dust with powdered sugar when cool.


Quotable Quotes; In the category I Don't Care For Elderberry Wine!
"But you haven't tried the quince!" from Joseph Kesselring's play Arsenic and Old Lace

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