Two things I always make as soon as I get my hands on quinces are Membrillo and Quincemeat. Membrillo is the perfect give away treat, is delicious with cheese and costs a fortune if you have to buy it in the shops. Quincemeat provides a good build up for the festive season, and is a great excuse to eat mince pies in October. A note on preparing quinces - they are a bugger to peel, especially the small, wild knobbly ones so I cook mine whole for my membrillo recipe, then pull off the flesh. However if you have those show-offy perfect, plump quinces then it's easier to peel and core them first, which saves sieving them. The horrible little runt quinces I make into quince jelly to spread on my toast and to glaze fruit tarts.
It will soon be time to think about jam making with summer fruit. My tips are from my 'Food for Keeps' course and will help you make perfect jam every time. Try making this delicious Fresh Apricot Jam.
- Never make more than 10lb (10 standard jars) at any time. The less time spent in cooking the jam, the better the final colour and flavour.
- Choose firmly ripe, fresh fruit, picked dry. Wet fruit will affect the set and flavour of the jam.
- Prepare the fruit removing any stalks and bruised flesh, only wash if necessary.
- Use a large, heavy based saucepan. The pan should never be more than half full.
- Add water only of the recipe says so.
- Bring fruit to the boil, then simmer gently to break down any skin and to extract the pectin.
- Pectin is a substance in fruit that reacts with acid when heated, creating the setting agent. Fruits vary in their pectin and acid content.
- Jam sugar has added pectin and is ideal for fruits that are low in pectin helping jam to set.
- Do not cover the pan as water evaporation is essential.
- Underboiling causes jam to be too runny and overboiling makes it sticky.
- Test the set by dropping a spoonful of jam onto a refrigerated saucer and seeing if the top crinkles when you run your finger or a spoon across it.
- Warming the sugar in a low oven (110C) will shorten the cooking time. Preserving sugar consists of large crystals of sugar which dissolve evenly producing less froth when boiling.
- Remove any scum with a slotted spoon once the jam is ready to pot. A nut sized piece of butter at the end of the cooking will help reduce the scum.
- Cool the jam for 5 to 10 mins before potting, then stir again to help evenly distribute the fruit and stop it from rising to the top of the jars.
- Always warm jars in a low oven to sterilise and prevent cracking from the hot jam.
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- choose firm, ripe fruit
- preserving sugar has bigger crystals which dissolve more evenly
- test for set by seeing if a skin forms when dropping some jam onto a chilled saucer
- always warm the jars in the oven