Author Notes: A good friend from Hawaii recently visited for a weekend. We crammed a lot of good things in, and on the final day did a tour of several local distilleries. Our last stop was Stone Barn Brandyworks. The owners happened to have a huge bin of fresh Comice pears and a smaller bin of fresh quince they were turning into fruit brandies. The owner kindly sliced up a pear for us to eat while we were sampling their booze. Unfortunately most quince varieties are not for raw eating so no quince tasting for us. Even more unfortunately, my friend had never had the opportunity to try quince. I decided I should make some quince butter to send to her. Researching recipes I found an interesting one from Cooking Light. In the recipe the quince is cooked in a dilute sugar syrup. Once it’s softened the quince is removed and puréed, and the syrup is cooked down until all of the water has been removed and the sugar hits the soft ball stage. The puréed quince and sugar and mixed back together to form the final butter. I’d never made a fruit butter this way before, but my curiosity was definitely piqued. I decided to give it a go with a few modifications. I thought some citrus and vanilla would enhance the lovely floral flavor of the quince. I replaced part of the water with freshly squeezed orange juice, and added some finely minced zest and vanilla seeds to the finished butter. To enhance the flavor further I cooked the quince with the vanilla pod and a sachet containing some orange peel as well as the quince peelings. The technique worked beautifully, and the resulting butter is fantastic. If you’d like to preserve some quince I urge you to give it a try. (Note: I’ve not tried the technique with apple butter, but I’m betting it would work, and it is on my fall to-do list.) —hardlikearmour
Makes: about 3 1/2 cups
2 large juice oranges
1 large or 2 small vanilla beans
3/4 cup sugar, plus additional to taste
1 3/4 to 2 lbs quince
- Wash oranges well. Use a vegetable peeler to remove thin strips of peel (avoiding the white pith) from half of one of the oranges. Place the peel in a pile on a 10- to 12-inch square of cheesecloth. Use a microplane to remove the zest from the other orange onto a cutting board. Finely mince and set aside. Cut the vanilla bean(s) in half and scrape out the seeds. Set the seeds aside with the minced orange zest. Place the empty bean(s) into a 3.5 to 4 quart wide sauce/stock pot.
- Juice the oranges into a quart measuring cup, then add water to a combined volume of 4 cups. Add the juice and water (strained if there were any seeds) along with 3/4 cup of sugar to the pot with the vanilla bean. Give it a stir, then cover and bring to a simmer over medium heat.
- Wash the quince well. Quarter, peel, and core them. Add the quince peels to the orange peels in the cheesecloth, and discard the cores. I find it easiest to use a melon baller to remove the stem and blossom ends, then a sharp knife to quarter the fruit. I then use the melon baller to scoop out the core, being careful to not cut myself and to get all the white core bits out. The core will never get soft, and the melon baller is surprisingly sharp. Don’t worry if you don’t get 100% of the peel removed from the nooks and crannies of the fruit.
- Add the quince quarters to the pot. Use some kitchen twine to tie the cheesecloth containing the peels into a sachet. Add it to the pot. If needed add extra water to the pot so the quince is mostly covered.
- Reduce heat to medium-low and allow the quince to cook until it is quite soft, stirring occasionally. The quince should break apart with stirring and should just be starting to turn pinkish, 60 to 90 minutes. Remove the sachet and set it into the quart measure or a small bowl.
- Place a mesh strainer over a large bowl. Carefully pour the quince and liquid through the strainer. Allow the mixture to drain, undisturbed for at least 30 minutes. Transfer the strained quince to a food processor with the blade attachment, removing the vanilla bean as you go. Purée until smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl once or twice, 60 to 90 seconds. Now is a good time to put a few small plates into the freezer for testing the butter later.
- Transfer the strained liquid back into the pot. Squeeze the liquid from the peel sachet and add it along with any liquid that drained into the measuring cup back into the pot.
- Cook the syrup on high until it has reduced by more than half, become a gorgeous translucent salmon color, and takes a half second or so to “heal” when a wooden spoon is scraped across the bottom of the pan. At first the mixture will boil vigorously and not need much babysitting. As the water evaporates and the mixture starts to thicken, the bubbles will get larger and the boiling will seem less intense. Turn the heat down to medium-high at this point, stir the mixture frequently, and babysit it closely as the sugar syrup can burn. A small amount of browning on the bottom will be okay, but burning will ruin the batch.
- Remove the syrup from the heat, and add the puréed quince back in. Stir together to thoroughly combine. The butter will be a lovely apricot color. The mixture should be thick enough that your spoon will leave traces. If for some reason it is not, return the mixture to medium-low heat and cook, scraping bottom frequently until it is thick enough. If you put a spoonful onto a cold plate, no water should weep from the perimeter.
- Taste the quince butter, and add sugar a tablespoon at a time if needed to get your ideal sweet-tart balance. Make sure to stir well so the sugar gets fully dissolved. Stir in the orange zest and vanilla seeds. Transfer to an airtight container or canning jars (process as for jam). Keeps refrigerated for a month or more.