Regular Food in Jars contributor Alexandra Jones is here today with a recipe for homemade quince butter. Quince is one of my favorites and I loved this glimpse into her process! -Marisa
Quince is one of my favorite fruits to preserve — and where I am in Pennsylvania, it’s also one of the hardest to find.
Luckily, I happened on a farmers’ market in Old City Philadelphia recently where Beechwood Orchards, the only farm I know to offer quince at retail, happened to have a single crate on their stand. After sending out a quick alert over social media — quince spotted! — I promptly bought several pounds.
It may seem silly to go so wild over a fruit that, when grown in a temperate climate, you can’t even eat raw, although its floral scent will perfume any room in which you stash your fruit. Quince flesh is dry, tannic, and unpalatable until you poach slices in syrup or cook it down with sugar into a thick paste, when it becomes tender, toothsome, vibrant and bright, with that unmistakable floral note.
The traditional way to prepare quince is as quince paste, or membrillo — cooking down the mixture so long with sugar that it becomes a firm, sliceable brick after refrigeration, still tender in texture but more like a fruit cheese than a spread.
But knowing that I might not come upon quince again for another few years, I decided to find a way to can it, with visions of giving some away for the holidays. It’s delightful to serve on a cheese board alongside aged wedges made the traditional way. I found a Williams-Sonoma recipe for inspiration and set to work.
While parts of the recipe were really out-of-whack — the quince were supposed to redden in 20 minutes, according to the recipe, but this took closer to three hours in my kitchen, and resting the pot off the heat didn’t help redden them at all — I ended up with a dreamy finished product.
It isn’t a chunky jam nor a runny compote, and it’s not a firm-set fruit cheese more reminiscent of membrillo. The best way I can describe it is quince butter — despite the sugar added.
It’s lush, smooth, and stands up on a spoon in a way that’s reminiscent of my favorite long-cooked, no-sugar butters made with sweeter fruits. Spread it on a thick slice of toast with good cultured butter, drizzle it over drop biscuits with whipped cream or ice cream, or spoon an artful dollop onto your next cheese board.
While it might take a little effort to track down quince in your area, those of you in the northeast may still be able to track some down (I assume you may also have luck in California, though I’m not sure of the fruit’s season out there.) I’ve also seen specimens grown overseas at Asian markets here in Philly. But once you get your hands on some and get a taste , you’ll know if was worth it.
My four pounds of quince cooked down into six pints of supple, rosy butter over a few hours on low heat, but you should be able to halve (or double) this recipe without issue. I canned mine in a mix of half-pints and quarter-pints, perfect for gifting or bringing to a party — or hoarding all to yourself.
I also swapped out the spices in the original recipe with a few long sprigs of rosemary from my garden. I might add another the next time I make this, hopefully sooner than later.
How to Make Quince Butter
- 4 pounds quince
- 7 cups sugar
- 2 large sprigs fresh rosemary
- Wash and remove fuzz from the quinces. Peel, core, and slice them, reserving the cores and peels.
- Place the cores and peels into the center a large square of cheesecloth, then tightly tie the corners together to create a secure bundle. Put the slices in a large, heavy-bottomed pot, add water to cover the slices, and then add the bundle of scraps. (With the bundle added, my batch barely fit into a 4-quart Dutch oven; I’d recommend using an 8-quart pot for a recipe this size.)
- Bring the pot to a boil over high heat, then bring the heat down to low and cook gently, uncovered, until the quince slices are very tender.
- When the slices are falling-apart tender, remove and discard the bundle of scraps. Puree the quince and cooking water in the pot using an immersion blender until very smooth, with no lumps remaining. (If need be, you can do this in a few batches using a regular blender, then pour the puree back into the pot.)
- Add the sugar and the rosemary to the pot and cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture turns a deep rosy pink and thickens to coat the back of a spoon. While you’re waiting, prepare a large water bath canner and enough half-pint or quarter-pint jars, bands, and lids for 6 pints of quince butter. For me, it took around 3 hours to get to the right stage; I removed the pot from the heat when the mixture was starting to firm up (not quite wrinkling when poked) when I did the plate test.
- Ladle the quince butter into the hot jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace. Wipe rims, apply lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes. Allow the jars to cool undisturbed for 24 hours before checking seals, removing bands, labeling, and storing.
This sounds fantastic! I’m obsessed with quince preserves. I unfortunately think I’m SOL for quinces this season (if anybody hears about local quinces in SE Michigan, let me know…), but this is definitely going on my list for next year. Rosemary sounds like a fantastic pairing.
No sure about SE Michigan, but both Horrock’s and Whole Foods in Lansing, MI have Quince available!
Thanks! I’ll check the Whole Foods in A2 next time I’m there.
The place I usually get them stopped carrying them way earlier than normal, so I’ve been afraid I’ll have to get through this year with no quinces at all. Tragic.
I currently have a very full gallon freezer bag FULL of quince puree from last year in my deep freeze that just needs sugar and stirring to bring out the lovely carnelian color — sometimes it blooms quickly and sometimes the color barely changes, I’m not sure why. I typically make this and can it in the wide mouth half pint jars; it’s easy it ‘pop out’ of the wide/shallow jar and slice with manchego and it makes great gifts!
I’ve read of quinces and I did manage to find a jar of commercial quince jam but I’ve never seen the fruit here in Southern California. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I haven’t thought to try the Asian markets. I might have better luck there. As soon as I know the season I might give it a try. It’s almost December so I’m thinking probably not this year. But so glad for this post so when I do find it, I’ll know what to do with it.
BTW quinces play a part in a very funny picture book called Snoring Beauty. I highly recommend it as the adults will enjoy the story as much as the kids. Maybe more so. And the illustrations are wonderful.
Definitely try Asian markets or Hispanic markets, I find them more reliably there than in “regular” stores, at least here in Texas.
We grow our own quince and despite the bad tree fruit season in the Pacific NW this year, we had about 4 lbs fruit. I just cooked this down and dehydrated it to make Membrillo in the last couple of days. My recipe from the book “Canning for a New Generation” calls for 3/4 cup sugar for every cup of puree. My 4 lbs. resulted in 6 cups puree. I added fresh lemon juice for more acid. I cooked this down rapidly over medium heat with 4.5 cups sugar and it barely got to a peach rust color. I think slow cooking would probably bring out a more rosy color so thanks for that tip Marisa! After cooking down to where the mixture would barely cover the spoon scraped against the bottom of the pot, I spread this out over a jelly roll pan on top of parchment paper and dehydrated at 135 deg. for 8 hours. This made a vey firm membrillo. I usually vacuum pack and store this in the freezer and then serve with a salty cheese like Manchego.
I processed and froze the puree from a load of quince that I foraged this summer and want to make this recipe, but I have a problem. I don’t remember how many pounds I started with. I thought I had it written it down but can find it nowhere. Do you have any idea of the proportion of puree to sugar when you got to that stage?
Hi Lori, you can see in the photo of the pale puree that my 4-quart Dutch oven is pretty full. The best guess I can give is that I ended up with around 3 quarts of puree based on that, but I didn’t actually measure during the cooking process. Good luck!
If I remember correctly from my quince research, you want to cut the fruit across the core to cut into the seeds to more readily access the color & pectin.
I make quince apple butter. I put in 25% quince to 75% apple in a regular apple butter recipe. The recipe is 3 pound apple, 1 pound quince, juice and zest of one lemon, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 cup sugar or more if needed and 1/2 tsp vanilla. This basic recipe from “the Way to Cook” by Julia Child
Add to my comment:
Remove bad spots and core from fruit. Do not peel. Cut into even sized pieces, 1” square or larger. Add juice and zest of lemon and cinnamon and cook on low heat for 30 to 45 minutes. The fruit will render juices during cooking. Stir and mash softening fruit. Purée fruit mixture through food mill or press through sieve. Return the mixture to pan and add sugar to taste. Boil slowly, stirring, until thick enough to hold its shape solidly on a spoon. Refrigerate or can.