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Japonica (Japanese Quince)

Quinces are members of the rose family, closely related to pears, and more distantly to apples. True quinces are Cydonia oblonga, a small tree (3-6 metres), with large, furry leaves, and and slightly furry, very aromatic fruit; they are well worth growing. Some people find them tricky to grow, and they tend to drop their leaves if they don't like the conditions; their fruit also rots fairly easily, so doesn't keep. This FAQ doesn't cover them, as instructions on using their fruit can be found in any good cookery book.

Japanese Quinces, also known as "japonica", are any of the Chaenomeles species (mainly C. speciosa, C. japonica and C. x superba). They are natural shrubs, often suckering readily, and have small, smooth leaves and smooth fruit. C. speciosa grows to about 3 metres but the others rarely exceed 1 metre. They are usually grown for their flowers, and are almost trouble-free, except for occasional fireblight. They flower on old wood, but can be pruned back hard when they get out of hand, and dead branches should be cut out at or below ground level.
The fruits are very hard and extremely sour (much more so than lemons), even when fully ripe, which is usually in October; they are aromatic, but not nearly as much as the true quince. They keep for ages and there are often some usable ones still lying on the ground in March. They have a lot of seeds, and removing them and the "toenails" is tedious. Established plants fruit readily, and few people use the fruit, so asking anyone with a japonica in their front garden who has not collected the fruit by November will usually be met by "take as much as you like".

They can be used in most recipes instead of either apple or quince, but need more sugar for sweet ones. They do well instead of quince in Persian and Moroccan lamb dishes.
They make a rock-hard jelly; it will keep for many years, as it is very high in acid and pectin. Use an apple recipe, and don't bother about adding lemons.
Baked (whole, uncored) japonica is an interesting alternative to apple sauce to go with pork, if you like sharp apple sauce.
Attempting to eat one raw is a memorable experience. One should try everything once, except incest and folk dancing.

The following recipes are recommended to people who think that most commercial chutneys and pickles are produced under licence from the recipe owner Wimps 'R' Us.

Japonica Cheese

Cut them in half, and stew gently in a little water until soft. Force the pulp through a coarse sieve with a wooden or metal spoon, or using a mechanical equivalent, leaving mostly seeds behind.
Make a jam mixture with about equal weights fruit and sugar, to taste, and enough water to prevent it burning, and bring gently to the boil.
Transfer it to a roasting tray, large enough so that it is 2-3 centimetres thick, and put it in a preheated, cool oven with the door slightly open (unless it has a non-recirculating fan option). Every now and then, take it out, stir it, and put it back; the object is to avoid forming a thick skin. This will take some hours, but doesn't need continuous attention.
When it has become very thick, put it in another roasting tray, which has previously been lined with oiled greaseproof paper. Smooth it roughly level and let it cool.
It should now have a rubbery consistency, and can be put into a container and kept in a cool, dry place almost indefinitely. You should separate layers with clingfilm or similar, or they will bond to each other. A few months' maturing improves its flavour, and making it in October for Christmas is good.
When you want to use it, cut off small cubes with an oiled (or dampened) knife and serve either with meat or as part of a dessert (in the traditional sense, not a pudding course). Such cheeses were part of mediaeval feasts, including of course the Yuletide one.

Hot Japonica Chutney

This is adapted from David and Rose Mabey's recipe for apple chutney in "Jams, Pickles and Chutneys". This book is out of print and moderately sought-after (so expensive second-hand), but very useful.

3-4 pounds japonica, with seeds and "toenails" removed and cut into pieces; I don't feel that peeling them is necessary
2-3 pounds onions, coarsely chopped
1 pound sultanas or raisins
Juice and grated rind of 2 lemons
1.5 pounds demerara sugar, though granulated will do
1 pint good malt vinegar
Chopped chillis to taste

Cook everything except the sugar gently until soft, add the sugar and continue until thick, then pot, cover and leave for a while before using.
It just isn't feasible to advise on the number of chillis and whether to seed them first, as some people like just a hint of heat and others like something that takes the roof of your mouth. And, of course, chillis vary immensely. Start with a few, taste as you cook, and add more if you feel it needs them.

Pickled Japonica

Peel and core some japonica, cut into slices, and loosely fill a jar.
Make up a suitable white wine or cider vinegar mixture, bring to the boil and pour over the japonica. Cover and leave for a while before using.
I used whatever spices took my fancy (e.g. a bit of mace), some chillis, very little salt and no sugar. Well, I liked these pickles, but I almost regard lemons as a table fruit, jalapenos as a vegetable and I have low salt-tolerance. My family and friends know me, and politely declined.

by Nick Maclaren

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