A while ago, I publicly pondered whether you could make jelly from Japonicas. I had an inkling that the pretty little things would make the basis of a very fine jelly. And having loved my jelly making last year decided to up the ante. Cowie’s Dad was less sure, mainly because he was worried I was going to attack the Japonica bush and strip it of its glorious bounty.
Luckily, a chap called Andy Murdock who’s got a PhD from Berkeley in this field got involved and helped me out having been sent my way by An American in London. He explained,
“Here's the story as I know it: Flowering quinces (aka. japonicas) are in the same subtribe of the rose family as true quinces (the 'maloids' that also includes apples and pears as well as less tasty things like Pyracantha, Cotoneaster, and Rhaphiolepis), but they're rather distantly related in this large group and, if anything, closer to pears. That being said, it seems like nearly everything in this group has been used for making jellies, even if some of them don't taste as good as others (and some are downright bitter).
The fruits of Chaenomeles (your flowering quince or japonica) are rock hard and quite bitter, although I haven't tried cooking them down and sweetening them. Others have though, like this blog that seems to report some good results in using them as quince replacements for jelly and quince paste.
There are a few other reports and recipes online, but no one jumping for joy over the results from what I can see, and it sounds like you need a lot of fruit to get a small amount of jelly. If you're interested in an experiment, go for it - you won't hurt anyone but it may not be worth the effort. I'd enjoy them for their flowers and then use some real quinces for making jellies and baking.”
When I asked whether the rumour of them being poisonous was true he laughed it off by saying, “I can't vouch for the complete chemical profile of Chaenomeles fruit, but my guess is that you'd mostly be dealing with large amounts of pectin and vitamin c (and however many pounds of sugar you add to make it more palatable).”
Vaguely re-assured, I ploughed on, feeling like a pioneer in the field of jelly making. I simply played around with an excellent recipe from Cottage Smallholder and had some fun. For full detail visit this site, because I’m just going to give a brief overview here.
Simply pick your fruit, without your girlfriend’s Dad getting upset. I deliberately chose fruit that wasn’t as attractive. I gathered around a kilo of fruit.
Cut your Japonicas in half with an extremely sharp knife. You’ll struggle because these suckers are like granite. Then add them to a large pot with enough water to cover the fruit. I lobbed in a couple of apple cores as well for good measure as they were about to make their way onto the compost heap.
Boil the fruit for several hours until the fruit has gone squishy and very soft. Then add a handful of chillies and allow to bubble away for another half an hour or so.
Then pour the contents of the pot into a jelly bag that is suspended above a very clean bowl. Leave overnight to drip. Drip. Drip. Don’t be tempted to give it a helping hand as this will lead to cloudy jelly.
In the morning measure the amount of liquid you’ve got an calculate how much sugar is required. For each pint of liquid you’ll need a pound of sugar.
Lob all this into a heavy duty pan and watch the alchemy take place. In the meantime sterilise as many jars as you think you’ll need. In this instance I only needed one large kilner jar because I only had a meagre pint of liquid. But that makes it even more special.
You’ll need to pay close attention when the juice and sugar turns to scorching hot syrup. Scum will come to the surface, so using a small side plate skim it off. Then when you’ve hit the setting point it’s time to pour the syrup into you sterilised jar and seal it up. Doing this will form a vacuum and ensure your precious jelly is safe from bugs and nasties.
We must have created a vacuum that Mr Hoover would have been proud of because it took several hours to break into our jar when the time came to eating it. Eventually, when we broke the seal with a crowbar (not kidding) we almost felt a wave of celestial calm. It was beautifully thick with a texture that was far stiffer than most jellies. The flavour was more citrus that quince jelly with a lovely warmth from the chillies that stayed with you like a hot water bottle after the hit of the jelly had gone. It is great with lamb, duck and game. And does a great job of adding a gloss to a reduction.
So the experiment was a success. It is official. Japonicas make excellent jelly. (And the internet is yet again, mindblowing.)