Quince, the Quintessential Marmalade

Another in a series in which I comment on M.F.K. Fisher’s 1986 annotations of Catherine Plagemann’s 1967 Fine Preserving, layering past and present, research, experimentation and outright opinion. This project is a blast.

Did you know that the word “marmalade” is derived from “marmelo,” the Portuguese word for quince? Apparently, the confection was originally made from quince but, like many things, has metamorphosed across centuries and places to have different meanings.

I finally got around to cooking a several apple quinces that I had intended to preserve before the holidays. Last year, I followed a recipe of David Lebovitz’s that he borrowed from Helen Witty. They grated the tough-fleshed quince, discarding the cores and skin, which I resisted as simply too wasteful. I used the cores and skin to make a big batch of quince jelly, since they are great sources of pectin.

 This year, I followed the advice of Catherine Plagemann and made “quince water” by cooking the cores and skin in water to cover until soft.  This method is preferred by the French queen of jam, Christine Ferber, who refers to it as “quince juice.” She uses whole quince, which for me ends up wasting the pulp unless you can see your way through making a compote. The quince water is used to cook the cut-up fruit (which by the way had been been sitting in cold water acidulated with lemon juice to avoid browning). Plagemann offered a second approach to the quince water, which was to parboil the quince. I tried that with one piece of fruit but decided I preferred the first method since I would still end up with un-used cores.

When ready to make the marmalade, I took half the quince pieces and grated them, as I’d done last year, and cut the other half in small pieces as Plagemann suggested.  Add them to the quince water in the preserving pan and add fresh water if needed so that the fruit is barely covered.  Bring to a boil and cook for 20 minutes to start to break down the fruit.  I added sugar –1½ cup per 4 cups of chopped quince – which is less than I would otherwise use, since the quince has such high levels of pectin. I also added the juice of half and orange. The mixture is then cooked slowly for about an hour until the color changes from drab yellow to a beautiful crimson and the flesh is tender. Plagemann mashes her pieces as they cook. I honestly preferred the grated version, since the color and texture were better and the marmalade reached the gel point more quickly. 

I added more water to the quince cores and skin since they weren’t fully cooked (and I was also adding some trimmings and the skin and core of the parboiled quince), and cooked it down, producing a couple of jars of quince jelly, which I regarded as a bonus.

Fisher, commenting on Plagemann’s recipe says, “I never made this marmalade, but, honestly, I don’t know what anyone ever bothers with quinces.” Unlike some of her sidebars that are one or two sentences long, this one fills up three full pages! Fisher equates quinces to rhubarb, “a ghastly thing too” that makes her teeth ache to think of the sugar. She recounts a way-too-long experience making her grandmother’s “quince honey” which she gave away since she thought it was awful. The recipient thought it was “the most delicious thing he ever tasted,” and she was relieved that the poor guy died before she felt obliged to make it again. This weird little fruit certainly brought out her pique.


Quince Marmalade liberally adapted from Catherine Plagemann

3 apple quinces


1 lemon, juiced, hulls reserved

Approximately 1½ c sugar

Juice of ½ orange

Peel and quarter the quince, cutting out the core and seeds. Place the quince pieces in a bowl of cold water (enough to cover them) to which the lemon juice and hulls have been added and set aside.

Place the quince skins, cores and seeds in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and cook, covered, until the pulp is soft. Strain the “quince water” into the preserving pan you will use to cook the marmalade.

Grate the reserved pieces of quince, measure them, and add them to the quince water. (I got 4 cups of grated quince). Add additional fresh water if needed so that the fruit pieces are not quite submerged in liquid. Bring to a boil, and cook for about 10 minutes. Add 1½ cup of sugar for each 4 cups of grated quince. Add the orange juice. Bring back to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, and cook slowly for about an hour, or until the color has changed to light red and the quince is cooked. Test for gel by dropping a little onto a cold plate.

While the marmalade is cooking, prepare jars for water bath canning. When it is done, spoon the hot marmalade into hot jars and seal. Process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes after the water returns to a boil.  Turn off the heat, remove the lid and let sit for 5 minutes until removing the jars to sit undisturbed until cool.

Makes 5-6 four-ounce jars.

Categories: Preserving, Preserving with Plagemann & FisherTags:

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