I inherited my love of quince from my mother who in turn inherited it from hers. My mom is from Germany, where quince are called Quitte and my Oma would cook compotes and more with them. The past couple years we've both been gifted quince from friends with trees of their own and have of course shared the bounty with each other. This year, while she's been recreating the quince dishes of her childhood — and making a phenomenal James Beard's Quince Tart! — mine were languishing in my fridge.
When I first took them out, they were so fragrant even through the plastic bag I worried they were overripe. Perhaps they were as some of the larger ones were getting a bit gritty, but the beauty of making preserves is some slightly imperfect fruit really doesn't matter.
Quince are similar to large apples, but can be much tougher to cut and core. Since these were well-ripened, I was pleased to find that cutting and coring was actually pretty painless. Some cooks also complain about peeling them, but I've found the perfect tool for that task is a serrated peeler.
I debated between making membrillo (quince paste), poached quince or quince preserves, but in remembering the look and flavor of my beautiful quince jam jars from last year (and in the interest of available time), I went with the latter.
Like apples and other fruits, quince turn brown once exposed to the air, so squeeze some lemon juice over them while you're prepping the fruit to prevent this.
Magically quince also change their complexion when you cook them with sugar. From their natural golden color, they become a gorgeous rosy hue that somehow perfectly matches their aroma. And the longer you cook them, the rosier they become.
Vanilla Quince Jam
Adapted from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
Yields approximately 6 half pints
7 cups quince, peeled, cored and chopped
8 cups water
3 cups sugar
1 vanilla pod, split
Juice of 1 lemon, to prevent fruit from browning
Scrub the fuzz off the fruit under a cool, running tap. Dry the fruit and cut into quarters. Remove the core from each piece and then take the skin off each piece using a serrated peeler.
Chop into pieces and place in a large non-reactive pan, squeezing in the juice of one lemon. As you add chopped fruit from the additional quince, mix it around to coat with the acidic citrus juice.
Add water and sugar to the pot and bring to a full boil. Once sugar is dissolved, turn heat down to medium-high and stir frequently to keep from burning.
Once the fruit has begun to break down and turn somewhat translucent, smash the chunks down further using a potato masher.
Cook until your jam comes off a spoon in sheets, and ladle into hot, prepared jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.
Process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes.
If you are not an experienced home canner, please consult the USDA guidelines or follow the detailed directions in a trusted source such as the above-cited cookbook.