I've been thinking a lot about my father-in-law, Herb, who passed away quite suddenly last week. Now that the shock is wearing off just a little, and the fog is starting to lift from our collective family consciousness, a flood of great memories keeps coming to me. Given my long-standing love affair with creating unusual preserves, it might not be surprising to know that one of my favorite memories of my father-in-law has to do with - what else? - making jelly for him.
What you should know about quince, and what I quickly learned, is that they are hard. Ridiculously hard. Mahogany hard! But I was determined to make this happen. By the time I was done preparing the fruit, my hands were bleeding and I had blisters that would take weeks to heal. But I'd done it. I made that jelly, and it was pretty darned tasty. Herb was so proud to have something made from fruit he'd picked off his very own tree.
It all started when my in-laws retired and moved from Upstate New York to a home in a neighboring town here in Colorado so we could all be closer. Herb discovered that, among other things, the yard of their new home contained a quince tree. He was very excited when that tree produced fruit and asked if I could make jelly from that fruit.
I'd never made quince jelly before. I didn't even know what a quince was and I'd never actually seen the fruit before. But I was, and still am, always up for a challenge, so I happily picked up the culinary gauntlet Herb had thrown. I headed to the Internet to do some research and it wasn't long before I'd found what seemed to be a suitable recipe.
It called for 3 pound of quince and I relayed my needs to my father-in-law, who quickly obliged by bringing over a sack of small, yellow fruit with a shape similar to a misshapen pear. When weighed, it would take 20 of these pieces of fruit to make the 3 pounds I needed. The recipe called for rubbing the fruit with a towel to remove the fuzz, cutting the fruit in half, using a melon baller to remove the seeds and cores and bundling those seeds and cores into a piece of cheesecloth to boil out the natural pectin. Why I didn't just use a box of pectin is a story for another day.
Two weeks later, as I did some grocery shopping, I stopped in my tracks. There, in the middle of the produce section, was a lovely display of GIGANTIC quince. At least I thought they were gigantic. They were actually normal sized fruit and I would only have needed to process 5 of them to the 20 from my father-in-law. Turns out, those quince Herb gave me were the smallest, saddest quince ever to be turned into jelly and if either of us had had a clue what a quince should look like, or how many should make up a pound, I wouldn't be sharing this story with you now.
We both laughed pretty hard when I told him about it, and he never asked me to make jelly from his quince tree again.