03 December 2011

when distraction is fruitful

This is what happens when someone gives me fruit:

There is jam. And jelly. I used to be confused about the difference between the two, but it turns out that jam has actual pieces of fruit in it, whereas jelly is just made of fruit juice. Believe it or not, these are both derived from the same batch of fruit.

My friend Donna has a quince tree, and this year, she gave me some. Quince need to be picked after the first frost, and because they are very hard, letting them ripen is not a bad idea (turns out the process is called "bletting" and it's the same thing you have to do with persimmons--essentially letting them rot until they're ripe enough to eat). I didn't take a picture of the fruit, but they look much like yellow pears. And they smell heavenly, a combination of floral and pear scents (as quince is in the rose family, this is not unsurprising).

I parboiled the fruit so they would be easier to cut up, and then peeled and chopped them. After that, I boiled the chopped fruit like potatoes until it was soft, drained off the water into a separate bowl, and cooked the fruit into jam. That's how tough these things are. I stirred the jam in between reading and trying to work on a project, and then processed it for ten minutes in a hot water canner, which is my standard procedure with jam. The most complicated part of the process is waiting for the jam to cook to the right consistency. I usually don't add extra pectin, so it takes time.

Later that evening, I started on the jelly. I found a recipe so I could figure out the proportion of sugar to juice, and then started it cooking. I think it took over an hour before it was where I wanted it, which let me take advantage of one of quince's other properties.

The tannins in quince, as they break down, render the white fruit pink, and then red. The jam is in the early stages of this, where it's more pinkish-brown (it's supposed to grow more pink with time, even in the jar). But the jelly is crimson.

Even though I know they came from the same fruits, I am still surprised when I look at the jars. Jam-making, as a process, is endlessly exciting for me. It's always a joy when I come out with jars of jam at the end. It feels like magic.

Perhaps it is.

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