The Ladies' Tea Guild

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #12: If They'd Had It -- the Quince Marmalade version!

ingredients for Quince Marmalade.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
The Challenge: #12 -- If They’d Had It -- November 2 - November 15

I had a hard time deciding which recipe to do for this challenge.  Should I choose mushroom ketchup, quince marmalade, macrows (macaroni), or something else?  I wanted to do them all.  I ended up wavering between the ketchup and the marmalade, and when I found the ingredients for both recipes in the farmer's market and in my pantry, I decided to do them both.  The quinces for this recipe came from the heritage apple vendor at the farmer's market. 

Quinces are a very old type of fruit.  Similar to apples and pears, they have a very hard flesh that doesn't soften until it's over-ripe, a delicious apple-y fragrance, but a very bitter and astringent taste that doesn't mellow out until it's very over-ripe.  They also have a lot of pectin in them.  They are mentioned as far back as ancient Rome, when they were recommended to newlyweds on their wedding day; nibbling on a slice of quince was supposed to perfume their breath!  
Quinces.  Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
Fresh quinces last a few weeks if kept in a cool place, but to keep them longer, they need to be cooked with sugar and dried out.  Thankfully, that also makes them more palatable, so it's a win-win situation!  The earliest recipe I could find for preserving them was from ancient Rome (Apicus), and it called for packing the quinces in a vessel and covering them with honey and a spiced wine syrup.  By the 14th century, recipes for preserving the quinces as confections had appeared; recipes for something called "Leshe Viand", or "Sliced Food", instructed the cook to boil the quinces until they could be easily peeled and cored (they are too hard to do this easily when not over-ripe), and then put them back in the same water they were boiled in, and boil them a few more hours until they fall apart into mush.  Then strain them with egg whites, and mix in honey and spices, and let them cool.  When cold, the pectin in the quince makes it set and hold its shape, and the mixture can be sliced and served.

By the 16th century, this kind of preserve was starting to be called "Quince Cakes," "Quince Paste" or "Marmalade".  According to Wikipedia, the name "marmalade" is from the Greek, Portuguese and French; "Marmelo" is said to be Portuguese for "quince", from the Greek "melimēlon", or "honey fruit", and "marmelade" is supposed to be the French version of the word.  Recipes from this period instruct the cook to peel and core the quinces and boil them to mush, and add lots of sugar and rose water.  They may or may not call for adding spices, and some recipes instruct the cook to boil the mixture again until it is a paste, and turns red, which it will do as it oxidizes.  The mixture can then either be poured into a flat dish to cool and set, and be sliced into cubes and rolled in sugar like Turkish Delight, or be spooned onto a flat dish, covered in sugar, dried out almost like fruit leather, and "printed" with a decorative stamp pressed into the top of each spoonful.  Seville oranges and other pectin-rich fruit like apples were added to the recipe later, by the 18th century, where you can find recipes for both "Orange Marmalade" and "Quince Marmalade." 
Quinces ready to cook.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.

By the 19th century, the methods of making quince marmalade hadn't changed much – paring, coring, and boiling the fruit to a mush – but the recipes only call for adding sugar, either white or brown sugar, about a pound of sugar to a pound of fruit, and they often instruct the cook to pour the mixture into one of the Victorian shaped jelly moulds, or at least into small bowls, to "turn out for the table."  The recipes for orange marmalade are also separated from the quince marmalade, in that they're no longer simply using Seville (bitter) oranges in place of quinces in the recipes, but they actually have a different method.  The oranges are sliced, chopped or grated, the peel is often left on, or added separately to the pan, and they are soaked or scalded in several changes of water to remove the bitterness. Then the oranges are taken out and picked clean from the "strings" and seeds, then chopped, and boiled with sugar until the mixture is thick, when it's sealed in jars or pots like other jam and preserves, but not meant to be turned out of a mould. 

As always, I can't leave well enough alone when it comes to a recipe!  I ended up using elements from multiple historic recipes, for various reasons.  The recipe I followed the closest was one from 1859, but the holidays and safety issues (see below) dictated the major changes.

The Recipe:

Quinces boiling -- and splattering all over the place!
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
Quince Marmalade.  Pare the quinces and cut them up fine; put the parings and cores to boil; then strain them; put in the quinces, and let them boil till soft—when mash them fine, and put in three-quarters of a pound of sugar to a pound of fruit; let them cook gently for two hours, and take them up in pint bowls; when cold, put brandy papers on the top of each, and paste them over; they will turn out whole to put on table.
-- from Domestic Cookery, 1859.


Quince Marmalade.  Rub the quinces with a cloth, cut them in quarters.  Put them on the fire with a little water, and stew them till they are sufficiently tender to rub them through a sieve.  When strained, put a pound of brown sugar to a pound of the pulp.  Set it on the fire, and let it cook slowly.  To ascertain when it is done, take out a little and let it get cold, and if it cuts smoothly it is done. 
            Crab-apple marmalade is made in the same way.  Crab-apple jelly is made like quince jelly. 
            Most other fruits are preserved so much like the preceding, that it is needless to give any more particular directions, than to say that a pound of sugar to a pound of fruit is the general rule for all preserves that are to be kept through warm weather, and a long time.
-- from Miss Beecher's Domestic Receipts, 1850.


'To make white Quince Paste. SCALD the Quinces tender to the core, and pare them, and scrape the pulp clean from the core, beat it in a mortar, and pulp it through a colander; take to a pound of pulp a pound and two ounces of sugar, boil the sugar till 'tis candy-high; then put in your pulp, stir it about constantly till you see it come clear from the bottom of the preserving- pan; then take it off, and lay it on plates pretty thin: You may cut it in what shape you please, or make Quince chips of it; you must dust it with sugar when you put it into the stove, and turn it on papers in a sieve, and dust the other side ; when they are dry, put them in boxes with papers between. You may make red Quince Paste the same way as this, only colour the Quince with cochineel.

Quince marmalade cooled, set, and holding its shape.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
The Date/Year and Region:
United States, 1859, plus elements from other recipes.

How Did You Make It: 
I bought a total of 4 quinces at one of my local farmers' markets: 2 last week and 2 the week before, but they sat on my counter for a week or so until I could get to them.  They totalled about 2 pounds of fruit.  From a quince that a friend gave me a few years ago, I knew that the fruit would be very difficult to peel and cut; I'd given my fingers more than one laceration from my knife slipping that last time, so I wasn't eager to repeat the experience. 

The first change I made to the method in the 1859 recipe was to forego peeling the quinces; I took a tip from Miss Beecher's recipe from 1850 and cut the quinces into pieces, and put them on to boil without paring them, although I did cut out the cores.  The plan was to rub them through a wire strainer later and remove the remnants of peel at that time.  I also ended up cutting some of them in smaller pieces because some of the quinces had gotten over-ripe and I had to cut around soft spots.  I covered the fruit with water and brought it to the boil, and boiled it for an hour, stirring occasionally, and when it was soft enough, I mashed it in the pan with my potato masher, and stirred in about 1 ½ pounds of granulated sugar.

Quince marmalade -- you can see the reddish color here.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
Then, the holidays, and my family, intervened, and necessitated the second change to the method.  I was planning to cook the quince for another hour or so, until it was thick enough to "cut smoothly", but the family decided to get together earlier than planned, so I took the pot off the heat and put on the lid, and the quince sat in the syrup until after Thanksgiving.  The fruit had already started to thicken and change color by this time, but it was nowhere near thick enough to qualify as a "paste" or a "jelly."  I put the pot back on medium heat and brought it to the boil, and, unfortunately, didn't start stirring it immediately and it started to scorch within the first 10 minutes of heating up!  From that time on, I stirred it continually as it boiled gently for about another hour. 

Unfortunately, it continually splattered boiling quince syrup not only all over the stove and kitchen floor, but all over my clothes, hands and wrists.  After gaining a couple of particularly painful scalding splatters on my hands and arms, I decided to stop the cooking after about an hour and 20 minutes, treat my skin, and clean up the kitchen before my housemate came home and saw the mess!  The quince had thickened quite a bit by this time and had reduced by about ¼ to 1/3, but was still more of a jam consistency, not a thick paste.  I still wanted to get it to a paste consistency, so I made the third change to the method; I decided to forego the straining (the mixture was still too hot and I didn't want to burn myself again), and pour the mixture into flat dishes to cool, and hopefully set.  I poured most of the quince mixture (jam?) into an 8-inch square glass baking dish, with the intent to dry it out in the oven the next day – taking a tip from various 18th century recipes for "quince cakes" -- if it wasn't dry enough to set overnight.  I lined the dishes with waxed paper, filled the baking dish half way, and put the rest into a smaller plastic box to cool and set over night.

Quince marmalade covered with sugar and ready to slice.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
The next morning, I checked the quince marmalade and what do you know?  It set!  It had a soft, jelly-candy consistency, not quite as stiff as a gumdrop, but definitely firm enough to be sliceable.  No need to dry it out in the oven (although I'm still waiting to see if it's still so moist that it congeals in its storage containers).  I poured some white sugar on a jelly roll pan and turned the block of marmalade out onto the sugar, and poured more sugar on top, rubbing it gently across the top and all the sides.  I sliced the marmalade into approximately 1-inch cubes, rolled them in sugar, and put them in airtight containers lined with waxed paper that I scattered with more sugar.  I didn't count the number of pieces I got, but it was several dozen, I'm sure!  The marmalade is very sweet and has a surprising (to me) honey flavor; it's as if you cooked honey down to a candy, except less tooth-pulling-ly sticky.  I'd say that the old Greek "melimelon/honey fruit" name is an apt one!  I think it will go really well with cheese, like Parmesan, or brie, and something salty like bacon, so you could get that salty-sweet-creamy flavor and texture experience. 

Time to Complete:
Counting the time spent with the pot sitting on the stove off the heat?  5 days.  In actuality, it was about 20 minutes spent prepping the fruit, about 2 ½ hours boiling, more than 8 hours cooling over night and part of the next day, and maybe 15 minutes slicing and sugaring it.

Total Cost:
The quinces were about $2 each, and the sugar was $2.99 for 5 lbs., so it was a total cost (for supplies) of about $9. 

How Successful Was It?:
Quince marmalade finished! Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
Well, since I scorched the quince mixture, and scalded myself, I wouldn't say that my method was a complete success!  But since I ended up with edible, sliceable quince paste, it was a small success, I guess.  Maybe I'll call it a "modified success"?  Anyway, the quince turned a beautiful reddish-brown color while cooking, and, surprisingly (for me, anyway), had a honey-like flavor, rather than an apple-y or pear-like flavor, which is what I expected.  Also, the scorching it got gave a burnt-sugar flavor to the final product, which was actually quite tasty!  Since I didn't end up straining the mixture as I had planned, the texture was a bit chunky, although not as bad as I feared it would be, because the peel had pretty much disintigrated; like jam, basically.  It achieved a soft-set after the boiling, and held its own shape after cooling, enough to be sliced, but not firm enough to be "printed", or pressed with a wooden stamp to leave a decorative design on the top, as some 18th century recipes instructed. 

How Accurate Is It?: 
Well, since I changed the method so much from the Victorian (and earlier) original recipe(s), I can't give more than 50% historical accuracy to this attempt, but I did keep to the original ingredients -- of course, there were only two – and I ended up with an edible treat at the end, that is fairly close to what it would have been, if a softer and less smooth consistency.    

More information:
Ivan Day's Quince recipe page
"To Keep Quinces" from De Re Coquinaria, Book 1, Apicus 
"Cold leshe viand" from A Noble Boke off Cookry 

No comments:

Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)