Quince Paste from my Garden

My quince tree blessed me this year with much more fruit than I was expecting. Because we had such a warm, dry summer, they ripened earlier than they did last year. That meant I didn’t have to fight off the stupid squirrels, as there were still plenty of things for them to eat so they stayed away from the harder to eat quinces. I ended up with 8 large, beautiful, perfect fruits. I picked them and kept them in my house for several days just to make everything smell delicious.

Quince

When I was ready to process the quinces, I cored them and chopped them roughly, then weighed the fruit. The final tally was just over 4 pounds of usable fruit — yay! The pieces go in a large saucepan and get just barely covered with water, brought to a simmer, and cooked until soft.

You have two options at this point: strain or blend. A good historical cook will force it through a strainer (or food mill). I have done this. It works. It’s great. It’s period. Do it once. Then, once you’ve gotten it out of your system, pick up your immersion blender and go to town. (Note: don’t put your finger in the blender. Ask me about my scar!)

Once the quinces are fully sauced, it’s time for the sugar: add an equal mass of sugar to the mass of fruit you started with. I do this over low heat, adding a bit of sugar at a time and stirring to be sure it actually dissolves; I have burned my quince paste by not being careful during this step.

Now: cook over moderate heat, stirring pretty much constantly, until the paste thickens. This takes forever. It is tedious. You will wish you had servants. But watch it like a hawk, or it burns. For this amount, I split it into two batches and cooked it in a big heavy skillet. Over time, the water will cook out, the pectin and sugar will do magical things, and the fruit will oxidize to an incredible deep pink hue. You can decide how thick you want the final product to be. I cook it until it’s thick enough that stirring leaves behind defined troughs where the spoon was. You can do it not so thick and can it, like jam, or go super thick and pour it into a baking pan (well greased or lined with parchment), let it cool, and slice it, which is what I usually do. This batch honestly did not get as thick as it should have, but that’s okay.

Quince paste can be eaten with cheese, added to sauces, used as a component in many desserts, or just eaten for its own merits. I like it in — no surprise — tarts.

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Candied Plums

Sugar plums are just comfits. Not plums. I know that. But I still wanted to make sugared plums.

Inspiration:

TO DRIE APRICOCKS, PEACHES, PIPPINS OR PEARPLUMS
Take your apricocks or pearplums, & let them boile one walme in as much clarified sugar as will cover them, so let them lie infused in an earthen pan three days, then take out your fruits, & boile your syrupe againe, when you have thus used them three times then put half a pound of drie sugar into your syrupe, & so let it boile till it comes to a very thick syrup, wherein let your fruits boile leysurelie 3 or 4 walmes, then take them foorth of the syrup, then plant them on a lettice of rods or wyer, & so put them into yor stewe, & every second day turne them & when they be through dry you may box them & keep them all the year; before you set them to drying you must wash them in a litlle warme water, when they are half drie you must dust a little sugar upon them throw a fine Lawne.
– Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book, 1604

Full confession, I didn’t follow this very closely. I might try this again but stay more true to the recipe.

I had some nice Italian prunes (fresh ones, not dried ones; dried prunes is not redundant, prunes are a specific category of plum) that I wanted to try this with. I carefully pulled each one apart, pulled out its stone, and placed them skin up in a single layer in a heavy saucepan. Then I covered them with sugar, covered the pan, and turned the heat to very low. I let them heat without stirring them at all until they had exuded their own juice and the sugar was fully dissolved. I took the lid off, resisted the urge to stir them, and kept cooking until the sugar had made a thick, bubbly syrup.

I took the plums off the heat and let them cool just a bit, then transferred them to a cookie sheet with a Silpat. I dried them in a warm oven for 2 hours, then transferred them to my food dehydrator. I dried them, checking periodically, for several hours, until they were nearly dry but still gummy. Then I took the still sticky plums and and rolled them in sugar. Finally, I let them sit in the sugar for multiple days until they were fully dry.

Here are the finished plums:

  
As an added bonus, this yielded an amazing plum syrup which I could pretty much eat with a spoon.