Monday, November 14, 2011

quince jelly

I appreciate the element of uncertainty in the kitchen. This might make me an inferior food writer.  But I've never been particularly good at faking it.

I did, after all, promise you jelly.
Last year, I made a tiny batch of quince jelly--4 perfect half-cup jars. They were firm like tough jello- barely spreadable, but I was proud of the chemistry of that superhero pectin that lay within my beloved quince.
This year, the jelly was soft, just short of dripping off the knife.
You never know where the jelly's going to go.  At least I don't. And although some might say I'm here to tell you what will work every time, when it comes to jelly, I promise to tell you when I figure it out. Until then, I'm wringing my hands, fiddling with my thermometer, and taking little plates in and out of the freezer.

I love making jelly.

 I find deep satisfaction in the rough chopping of a whole piece of fruit, core and all. I like the process of coaxing the essence out of the fruit. And in this rare circumstance, I love not knowing if it's going to work.

There is, of course, always the cocktail option if you "fail". But when there are cocktails involved, you have simply not failed.

 So, in the last chapter of our quince romance for the year (perhaps, although I'd never promise that), for those of you who don't mind a bit of hand-wringing in the service of these perfect pink jars, I offer you quince jelly. And, understanding that we are just over a mere week before Thanksgiving, I promise that I will shift into the more reliable and useful foods that you might be searching for this week. I've got a tart on deck that I'm pretty excited about, and we'll do the usual brussells sprouts roundups, too. But first, the perfume, the gentle stickiness, and the pink.

Quince Jelly Recipe
(makes about 11 cups)

7 pounds quinces
1 vanilla bean, split
8 cardamom pods
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
8 cups sugar

1. Wash the pubescence (the slight furriness) off the quinces. Roughly chop the fruit. Leave the skins on, and roughly chop the cores as well. Put the chopped quince into a large pot along with the vanilla bean and cardamom pods. Just barely cover with water. Cover, bring to a boil, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 1/2 hours, or until the fruit is so soft that it starts to fall apart.

2. Set up a jelly bag, or rig your own with a pot, a colander, and a length of cheese cloth. Let the fruit drain (without smushing or poking!) for at least 3 hours, but up to overnight if that's convenient.

3. You should end up with about 12 cups of juice. Combine the juice, sugar, and lemon in a large pot and stir to dissolve the sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil, and keep it at a rolling boil until it registers 225 degrees on a candy thermometer OR (if you're thermometer-phobic) it makes a nice jelled drop when you put a bit on a plate that you have been storing in the freezer. This will take between 10 and 20 minutes of rapid boiling (and hand wringing).

4. Decant into sterilized jars and process for 10 minutes in a hot water bath. If you're new to canning, hop over here first!

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