Aldona Bird, Columns/Opinion

Quince becomes new fall favorite

I love traditional autumn flavors. I’m all about the apple butter and pumpkin spice. Now a new fall favorite has entered my life: Quince.

It’s all thanks to an old ornamental growing near my house since before my family moved here.

Many folks are more familiar with quince trees, which can also thrive in this part of North America.

But quince bushes, while they share similarities to quince trees, are usually grown for decoration. This bush has never let me down. It is lovely in the spring — covered in bright pinkish red blooms; its early color always fills me with spring joy and hope for the season.

But this bush went above and beyond this year. It set fruit for the first time. Not only did it set fruit, it set lots of fruit.

When the yellowish green fruit started really plumping up, I started researching. Learning that harvesting should occur when the fruit falls to the ground rather than being pulled from the bush, I waited.

Soon the fruit started falling, and I easily filled my large soup pot with the firm fruit. A couple weeks later I filled a large box with it.

Quince are too sour and bitter to enjoy raw. So I decided to try making jam for the first time.

Turns out, ornamental quince is a great fruit to start with. It naturally has a high level of pectin, so a thick and proper jam can be made without adding anything except sugar.

The recipe I found suggested putting the chopped fruit (cored but not peeled) into water with some lemon juice to prevent browning, although in my case I think this precaution might have been unnecessary.

It also called for lemon juice and zest in with the fruit and sugar. I didn’t have lemon when I made the first batch, so I squeezed in a little lime. After making a few more batches, I’m also finding this is unnecessary — the sourness of the quince is so strong that it completely overpowers any citrus.

Before adding sugar (the recipe I followed called for about 2 parts sugar to 3 parts quinces, by weight), I put the roughly chopped fruit in a pot and just covered with water. When simmering, they quickly cooked down to a mush.

I added the sugar and continued to cook down until it began to thicken. As the quince cooked with sugar it turned from a pale yellow to a pretty orangey brown. It cooked quickly — the longest part of the process by far was removing the cores and chopping these super firm fruit.

I love the bright and tart flavor of this jam, even without the addition of lemon it tastes very lemony and bright. I found it addictive with cream cheese on homemade crackers.

After I made a second batch, I had my first solo adventure in canning. A jam like this is also a safe choice for inexperienced canners, because the sugar and acidity level ensure it’ll stay safe.

In this one fell swoop, I made my first jam and first canning. The jam is zero waste to boot, since I bought sugar from the Mountain People’s Co Op from the bulk section, using my own bag. I’ll try the next batch of quince jam with honey from my family’s bee hives.

I’m not advocating quince lattes, or kicking apple pies out of rotation. I’m just saying that if quince jam becomes a fall sensation, you read it here first.

ALDONA BIRD is a journalist, previously writing for The Dominion Post. She explores possibilities of local productivity and sustainable living in Preston County.