March 16, 2011

Jellied Over and Out

Quince and Crabapple Jelly
I have some grand ambitions at times.  Never having cooked with crabapples or quinces before I figured it'll be easy.  A jell is a jell after all, right?  Yes, but it does pay to know and understand the fruit.  I don't know or understand a crabapple or a quince.  I don't know when they are almost ripe, ripe, overripe or no where near being ripe.  I don't know them.  Nor did I particularly enjoy working and cooking with these fruits.  Sitting here, I've arrived at a few conclusions.  And that's good.  Sometimes one needs to go through misspent (is that a word) time, effort and cost to realise and recognise "the bleeding obvious".

I should stick to what I know.  And to what I like.  And to local.  Seasonally local ought to be the only way to go.  Tropical fruits.  Citrus fruits.  Native fruits like the lilly pilly, the jaboticaba, kiwi, paw paw, Davidson's plum.  These are trees on my doorstep.  These are what I should stick with.   The crabapple and the quince are not native in my part of the world.  It'd be okay I guess if I was familiar with them. Or, if I felt nostalgic childhood memories.   But I don't.   No wonder I didn't feel any "pings" of excitment when I was cooking with them.  Niente.

It feels special to collect fruit straight from our trees.  It's worth the effort and the time to preserve them.  I know the kind of season the tree has experienced.  Are the blemishes on it's fruit from lack of water, or too much water?   Not enough fertilizer or yes that fertilizer did it the world of good.  Taking out that pine did the lime tree wonders.  Finally it saw the sun again.  I know my fruits. I know the trees. I know the conditions and the season preceeding the fruit.  Stick to what I know.

I followed the instructions as per usual for a jelly and I made a batch of crabapple jelly.  Colour - gorgeous.  Jell set - perfect.  Taste - not sure.  Mitch sampled some and he made a perfectly sensible observation.  It left a "powdery" taste he said.  He was right.  Very powdery, furry-like and quite acidic.  We could only think that we used fruit that was too underripe.   Why didn't someone tell me this!  Why didn't someone who knew this fruit tell me?  We should never have picked them.  The truth is, it suited me to pick them because I was down there at that time.  So the fault lies solely with me.  The crabapples weren't ready. 

Crabapple Jelly with not an air bubble in sight.  Stunning colour too - oh well
I was handed a bag of quinces and told to "toss" them out if they were rotten.  Rotten?  How do I know? I haven't used a quince before.  I later learned they're supposed to be yellow in colour.  In the meantime, I peeled away the blackened marks off the very green, rock hard quinces and decided I would make a jelly.  Problem; there wasn't enough of the fruit to justify making a jelly, so I threw in some crabapples to bulk it up a little.  Besides, I read this fruit needs extra pectin for a good jell set.  "Twenty minutes cooking to soften" I read.  No way.  I checked again at forty minutes.  Crabapples fairly soft; quinces pretty hard still.  Sixty minutes; not falling apart but soft enough.  Bottom line- the quinces or what was left of them I should say, were too firm and not ready either. 

So why give them to me? Or perhaps I should say, why did I accept them.  I have grand ideas.  I overlook the realities sometimes and all I see is the end picture.  I see lots of lovely exquisite little jars of jewelled jellies - all varieties - and everyone will think I'm so clever.

Far from feeling clever, I feel a little defeated and I feel I've wasted the better part of a beautiful sunny day.  So the lesson for me at least is to keep on preserving and trying to perfect the fruits that actually have meaning to me. Fruits I to which I feel a connection.  Local fruits.  Fruits in my own backyard.   I've come to the realisation, I simply can't do everything.

It was the perfect setting for a jell.   Never mind.
PS: The quince and crabapple jelly actually had a nice flavour and a gorgeous peachy colour.  For some reason heaps of air bubbles formed quickly and were trapped during the pouring stage.  They're clearly visible and I'm not happy.   The crabapple jelly left a dry taste and really didn't have any flavour.  Disappointing.   I won't post the recipes.  There's no point really.


  1. We learn so much through trial and error, though - don't we? I admire you're ambition.
    It is a pity - but such a photogenic jelly - gorgeous color (and cute dish in that first photo too).

  2. Thanks for the encouragement Chelsea! Yes you're right of course - trial and error is a very good teacher.

  3. I'm sorry for your disappointment, even more so since the crabapple is perhaps my most successful jelly fruit - I think much depends on the variety, and maybe even the environment in which the fruit grows - maybe it's just not happy. Allow me to share my own experience - in my neighborhood there's an old abandoned crabapple tree growing at the corner of two streets - it's ignored by all, except at blossom time, when it's as gorgeous as any other spring apple - but then it's soon forgotten again. On a lark one day in August, I picked a small pail of it's ugly fruits, hardly bigger than cherries, misshapen and poked with scabs from years of abuse and neglect - but I went ahead and used them anyway. I was rewarded with what to date has been my most magnificent jelly in every way one judges jelly, but especially in taste - a deep, lingering flavor that is simply superb.

    Each year now, when the tree has the grace to provide a sufficient crop, I make another batch of crabapple jelly, and marvel again at how wonderful jelly can really be - and I hope one day you will find a crabapple to give you an enjoyable jelly.

  4. Wow. Thank you for sharing your crabapple experience. Sounds like that tree is certainly appreciated by you now. It's funny you know. We have a mango tree that has been doing it tough for about a decade. We were in drought for several years and the tree really struggled. It didn't fruit profusely, but the few mangoes it produced were absolutely amazing. The best ever. After a season of rain and being well watered the mangoes are very average. I think there is something in this "more flavour" with a struggling tree.

    I don't know. Maybe one day I'll have another go with the crabapple. I see that you appreciate how wonderful a jelly can be. It's a marvellous thing. And not easy to achieve actually. As Celia said, making jelly is rather like an art. I agree.
    Thanks for dropping by.

  5. Can you believe I was at a neighbours the other day ............doing computer help with her and I asked her about her her property is called Quinces Landing as I had never really looked closely at a quince. Well she immediately bought out what she called Quince cheese and it was this thick paste (in a lovely shape) that she serves as a topping for cheese or just on its own on a biscuit was delicious. I could get the recipe for you if you wanted it.......just say the word. She is the sort of lady that I would like to give your blog address to as she does all these fantastic preserves etc. When you say jelly do you mean jam?

  6. You are not alone! I was desperate to grow quince and put one in in my little garden, kept reading about all the jams one could make with it. The quince (Meeches Prolific) flowered beautifully the first year, produced fruit, which then before they ripened, started to rot on the tree. The following year the tree was attacked by a rust or blight, I followed all the recommendations, took every single leaf off the tree, picked up everyone I could find on the ground. Waited another year, the same, and the rust started to spread to my little pear tree. Are you sobbing yet? I was. Then we finally decided to take the quince out. The pear tree fruited though and was fine!

  7. Mariana, that's a bugger, I'm sorry they didn't turn out as you would have liked. Jelly making really is a fine art - I think it needs so much more skill than jam making - and I can't do it, my husband Pete has to make all the jellies. Having said that, sometimes they just don't work. We've had reasonable luck with crabapple and quince in the past, but other jellies (such as grape) often just wouldn't set.

    Of course, the problem then is that you keep adding sugar to try and fix the set, and you end up with syrup!

  8. Quinces Landing? Boy, that's different. Cute name. Oh, she sounds really interesting Gayle. Perhaps when I come over you can take me there. Yep, sure would love her blog address. You know me, anything to do with preserves. I think what she calls 'quince cheese' is what we here call quince paste. Sounds similar. No dear, I don't mean jam. It's jelly - pure jelly with no fruit in it whatsoever, unlike a jam.

    Oooh Joanna - I'm feeling your pain - not quite as bad as I'm sure you did. Your experience reminded me of our blueberry bush. In the end she simply had to come out. After five years of disappointment mind you. Our climate just isn't cold enough for such fruits. Like the quince I suspect.

    We put in a jaboticaba tree in it's place. It's thriving. I'm so excited because the fruit makes a superb jelly - gorgeous not only to look at but taste as well. This I know from the jam lady at the local farmer's market. I can't wait to give this a go. Like your pear, some consolation at least.

    Well Celia, I've come to realise one must take the bad with the good. In a way there are more lessons to be learned from the 'bad'. Oh, you've so made my day. It's a hard thing to master and I do appreciate your honesty about sometimes we just don't get it right. I am waiting with anticipation for my cumquats this season. Crossing my fingers they are disease free this year. And your cumquat jelly is the first thing on my must make list. Really, excited about that one. Of course, shall report about the results. Thanks.