Autumn is quince season, and where i live, people are always trying to give quinces away. It is a fairly hardy soul who will eat them raw (my father is one such - he dices the raw fruit small and has it on his cereal), as they are very tough, and very tart unless extremely ripe, at which point they are moderately tart. Most people make quince paste, and then run out of things to do with quinces, so end up with a vast surplus of this lovely fruit. There's only so much quince paste you need in a year, after all. I've only made quince paste once, but i never have a problem disposing of large quantities of this fruit. I use up lots by stewing and bottling, and when i think i have
enough bottled, i make quince jam. Both are delicious ways to use quinces. I'll give you my mother's quince jam recipe in another post, but today i want to talk about bottling. If you have fruit trees and you don't know how to bottle fruit you definitely need to learn! Bottling is a fabulous way to preserve your fruity produce for consumption throughout the year. If you can pick up suitable bottles at your local recycling centre then you need only buy lids and rings for sealing (both of which are re-usable), and sugar.
Quince is one of my favourite bottled fruit - it smells fragrant, and has a lovely sharpness to its flavour. If you don't like tart fruit you can mellow out this sharpness with extra sugar, or simply bottle the quince with some apple, which does a great job of toning down the astringent qualities of the quince. The bottled quince is lovely on breakfast cereal, or combined with apple in a crumble, or on its own in a fruit sponge.
When bottling fruit i usually refer to the Edmonds Cookbook, and while i find it hard to imagine, it turns out that some households in New Zealand don't own a copy, so i'll provide you with some of their information below, along with some of my own information relating specifically to the bottling of quinces.
Before you get started on your fruit, prepare your bottles - i wash in really hot water, then place on a rack in the oven and set the oven to 100 degrees Celsius (Edmonds say 120 degrees). This has the double purpose of sterilising the bottles and heating them so that they won't crack when you place your hot fruit in them. Make sure you have sufficient screw rings and seals. I place my seals in a bowl of white vinegar to sterilise them.
Now prepare your syrup. Edmonds suggest a heavy syrup (1 cup of sugar to 1 cup of water) is most suitable for hard fruits such as quince, however i prefer to use less sugar. Edmonds give ratios of 1 cup of sugar to 2 cups of water for a medium syrup and 1 cup of sugar to 3 cups of water for a light syrup; i usually go for 1.5 to 2 cups of sugar to 3 cups of water, so about a medium syrup. I find that 3 cups of syrup is about the right amount to use in one go - that is sufficient syrup for a 4 litre bowlful of prepared fruit. While i'm preparing my fruit i have a large pot heating on the stove with my 3 cups of water and sugar, which i give an occasional stir to dissolve.
You're best to avoid preparing too much fruit at a time - if you have a lot of fruit you wish to bottle it is advisable to do it in several batches. I peel the quince, cut it into quarters, core the quarters and then slice. I place the prepared fruit into a bowl of cold water with a little salt dissolved in it, as this prevents discoloration of the fruit while more is prepared. When i have a bowlful of prepared fruit i add it to the syrup - the syrup does not cover the fruit at first, but as the fruit softens and releases its own juice it sinks down and is soon covered. Bring to the boil and then simmer until the fruit is the right consistency - anything from slightly soft to completely mushy is okay - it depends how much form you want to retain in your fruit, but even if you end up over-cooking and turning it to mush, it still tastes great and is quite useable.
While i'm cooking the fruit i place my seals in a bowl of white vinegar, to sterilise them (Edmonds suggest sterilising your seals by boiling in water for five minutes and then leaving in the hot water until you are ready to use them), and make sure i've got my screwbands handy. Once the fruit is ready i take the pot off the heat and stand it on a wooden board, with a second wooden board immediately adjacent. Then i (carefully!) get a jar from the oven, and place it on the second board. I ladle fruit into the hot jar; when it is about half full i run a sterilised knife or skewer (anything long and thin that can easily be sterilised will do) around the inside of the bottle to release any air bubbles. I finish filling the jar, run my knife or skewer around the bottle again, then top the jar to just below the rim with hot syrup. Make sure the rim of the jar is clean by wiping with a scalding cloth - and be quite particular about this; if there is anything on the rim it won't form an airtight seal and your lids will come loose while they are sitting in the cupboard. Immediately cover with a sterilised metal seal, and screw the band on tightly. Repeat with the rest of the fruit. It is fairly unlikely you'll have the perfect amount of fruit to fill the last jar completely, so you have two choices with the last fruit in the pot. If you are planning on processing some more fruit the same day you can leave the excess in the pot and add more syrup and fruit to it; if not you can just put it in a container in the fridge for consumption over the next few days.
Remove the screwbands once the jars are cool. You can tell a seal has formed as the dome should be slightly depressed. Wipe the jars with a warm wet cloth to remove any sticky residue and store in a cool dark place. In an ideal world, you'll be finishing your bottled fruit as the next season's is coming ripe, but if you have been careful with your sterilisation the fruit will keep well for years - the husband and i have eaten fruit we've bottled four years earlier, and it was still in good condition.