This week in the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan we are getting to grips with our quince harvest. The Nation's jam pan has come off the shelf and been dusted down for some jelly-making action.
Of our 3 small trees, all of which we planted not quite 4 years ago, 2 have fruited abundantly. The furry, yellow fruits hang heavily and with this week's windy weather have been ripe enough to fall. Time to get picking. Just gathering those from the ground and those within easy reach yielded a good sized basketful. I dust off the curious downy coating and chop them into chunks. No need to peel. Cover with water and lob in a squeezed lemon or two. (Just In Case. I can't remember if they are rich in pectin or not.) Let them bubble away gently until they 'fall'. The kitchen is infused with their sweet honeyed perfume - far prettier and more exotic than that of the apple.
The Quince is a fruit with history, greatly revered in ancient times - its cultivation may well pre-date that of the apple. Were quince the 'golden apples', the paradisal fruit, in the Garden of the Hesperides or the apples in the Song of Solomon? Even in Britain, not too many centuries ago its taste and fragrance were much admired - but like so many things which take time and patience in preparation quince seem to have gone out of fashion. What a shame that is - they are the most wonderous of fruit. I treasure our little trees - not only at this time of year when they reward us with fruit but in the springtime too when delicate, papery, pink petals unfold over waxy dark leaves. Heavenly.
I've gone off at a tangent....
What next? We let the softened fruit drip through a jelly bag overnight - the resultant juice is pink and clear and fragrant. Sugar is added, stirred and dissolved. It takes about 10 minutes at a wonderful rolling boil to reach setting point - at last the jelly flakes off the spoon. I know it will set now. All is well. But just why does a golden yellow fruit become a crystal clear red jelly?
My basket of fruit makes 12 jars of Quince Jelly, now neatly labelled, to go on the shelves to eat with scones or toast, or alongside pork or poultry - something bright to lighten the long dark days of winter.