The Cottage Smallholder

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Quince Jelly recipe (also works with Japonica quinces)

rotten quinceOur friend Bunty gave us a Portuguese quince tree three years ago. Besides being very decorative, with dark branches and lazy, floppy leaves it produces the large firm fruit that make the tastiest jelly. Mature quince jelly (over six months old) turns a gorgeous amber colour.

The first year our tree produced one small quince. It bore three last year and this year suddenly came into its own. The crop would be at least ten. The fruit are quite big so there would be enough to make more than jelly. Anne Mary and I poured over her old recipe books. We could make quince marmalade or try our hand at Membrillo. Greedily I watched the quinces mature and fatten. Imagine my horror when I noticed that the fruit was splitting and rotting on the tree. The cause, I discovered, was lack of water.

It’s easy to forget trees in a drought. Especially when they have done well in their first couple of years. Old established trees have much deeper roots and can find water more easily than younger, smaller trees. It would have been so easy to take a spur from the drip watering system in the kitchen garden to the quince tree. I just didn’t think.

Our poor pear harvest was probably due to lack of water. I am going to give both trees a dressing of rich compost from our composter and cosset them this winter. Hopefully the bees will boost the germination of the blossom next spring. Our bees arrived just as the blossom was going over this year.

I managed to harvest two half quinces and they are simmering on the stove as I write this. The aroma from the simmering quinces is richly fruity. We’ll be lucky to make a couple of small jars. One for Anne Mary and one for us, as an inspiration for next year.

Quince Jelly recipe (this works well with Japonica quinces too)


  • 2 lbs of quinces
  • 1 lemon (just the juice, sieved)
  • white granulated sugar
  • water to cover


  1. Wash and roughly chop the quinces (no need to peel, decore or depip) and place in a heavy bottomed saucepan.
  2. Barely cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer gently with a lid on until soft. If the quinces are very firm this could take several hours. Check it every now and then and add more water if necessary.
  3. Pour the cooked fruit through sterilised muslin into a large clean bucket or bowl (how do I sterilise muslin/the jelly bag? See tips and tricks below). The muslin is often referred to as a “jelly bag”. We use tall buckets to catch the drips from the jelly bags. Rather than hang the bags (conventional method-between the legs of an upturned stool) I find it easier to line a large plastic sieve with the muslin. This clips neatly onto the top of a clean bucket. The sieve is covered with a clean tea cloth to protect against flies.
  4. Leave the jelly bag to drip overnight (or about 12 hours).
  5. Measure the juice the next day.
  6. Pour the juice into a deep heavy bottomed saucepan and add 1lb/454g of white granulated sugar for each 1pt/570ml of juice.
  7. Add the lemon juice.
  8. Heat the juice and sugar gently stirring from time to time, so as to make sure that that all the sugar has dissolved before bringing the liquid slowly to the boil.
  9. Continue to boil for about 10 minutes before testing for a set. This is called a rolling boil. Test every 3 to 5 minutes until setting point is reached. (What is testing for a set? See tips and tricks below). Tossing in a nugget of butter towards the end will reduce the frothing that can occur.
  10. When jelly has reached setting point pour into warm sterilised jars using a funnel and ladle. (How do I sterilise jars? See tips and tricks below).
  11. Cover immediately with plastic lined screw top lids or waxed disks and cellophane tops secured with a rubber band. If you don’t think that the jelly has set properly, you can reboil it the next day. The boiling reduces the water in the jelly. I have done this in the past. Ideally you should try for the right set the first time.
  12. Label when cold and store in a cool, dark place. Away from damp.

Tips and tricks:

  • What is a jelly bag?
    A jelly bag is traditionally a piece of muslin but it can be cheesecloth, an old thin tea cloth or even a pillowcase. The piece needs to be about 18″ square. When your fruit is cooked and ready to be put in the jelly bag, lay your cloth over a large bowl. Pour the fruit into the centre of the cloth and tie the four corners together so that they can be slung on a stick to drip over the bowl. Traditionally a stool is turned upside down, the stick is rested on the wood between the legs and the jelly bag hangs over the bowl. We experimented and now line a sieve with muslin, place it over a bucket and cover the lot with clean tea cloths (against the flies).
  • How do I sterilise muslin/the jelly bag?
    Iron the clean jelly bag with a hot iron. This method will also sterilise tea cloths.
  • Jelly “set” or “setting point”?
    Getting the right set can be tricky. I have tried using a jam thermometer but find it easier to use the following method.
    Before you start to make the jelly, put a couple of plates in the fridge so that the warm jam can be drizzled onto a cold plate (when we make jam we often forget to return the plate to the fridge between tests, using two plates means that you have a spare cold plate). When testing for a set drizzle some jelly into the cold plateand return the plate to the fridge to cool for approx two minutes. It has set when you run your finger through it and leave a crinkly track mark. If after two minutes the cooled jam is too liquid, continue to boil the jelly, testing it every few minutes until you have the right set. The jelly is far more delicious if it is slightly runny. It does get firmer after a few months.
  • How do I sterilise the jars and lids?
    We collect jars all year round for our jelly, chutney and jam making sessions. I try to soak off labels and store the clean jars and metal plastic coated screw-top lids in an accessible place. The sterilising method that we use is simple. Just before making the jam, I quickly wash and rinse the jars and place them upside down in a cold oven. Set the temperature to 160c/140c for fan assisted. When the oven has reached the right temperature I turn off the heat. The jars will stay warm for quite a while. I only use plastic lined lids for preserves as the all-metal lids can go rusty. I boil these for five minutes in water to sterilise them. If I use Le Parfait jars, I do the same with the rubber rings.

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  1. Hi

    Picked quinces from my mother’s ornamental quince yesterday, all bright yellow fruits, some gone light brown (with frost damage I hope) mostly around 1.5cm – 4cm across.

    I discarded the ones which were mushy but decided to keep the others (only 10% of them at the most) which were still firm but looking slightly discoloured by the frost. I reckoned they were OK and as I was about to boil them for three hours, and then some, they would work fine.

    When trying to identify the type of quince I found out that the word marmalade comes from the Portugues for quince cheese. How interesting is that?! – We had a breakfast discussion about the difference between fruit conserve, marmalade and jam the other morning, this is a revelation. Mind you it came from Wikipedia so it might not be true! here’s the link…

    Anyway – back to the plot… I read through the whole recipe for Membrillo and decided the pips had to come out if I was to use the pulp. 1kg of fruit took a good hour, they are quite fiddly, I will look for big quinces in the shops next year, or plant one! Brought them to the boil around 11.30 p.m. and had already decided they were to go in the oven. set the oven on timer for 3 hours, put the lid on the pan and crossed my fingers.

    If anyone knows that I didn’t have to remove the pips or knows any tricks I would be interested

    7:00 this morning – came down to a deliciously fragrant kitchen, checked the fruit – looks good, nice and soft slightly warm, now straining.

    Checked Larousse Gastronomique for Quince Cheese (Pate de Coings), I’m trying to find the recipe with the least sugar (and then I will probably subtract some!). The Larousse would have us using the liquor we cooked the Quinces in to boil up with the sieved quinces. Good idea, in some ways –
    – might make the membrillo more tasty,
    – no need to strain for 12 hours,
    – less washing up.
    – then you would have no quince jelly!!

    I have decided to go for the double whammy quince jelly and membrillo option! Mainly because I have never made either before, AND they both sound delicious. I love quince jelly, isn’t it funny how something which used to be very popular is now “out of fashion” except as a delicatassen item and amongst the cognoscenti.

    BTW – I made the spicy damson chutney (somewhere on this site) and it is delicious except it is probably too solid – I think I overboiled it, after watching like a hawk over a period of two days (of frequently interrupted cooking). I may reboil it with a couple of cinnamon sticks to re-enliven. Or I could relabel as “spicy damson cheese”! It is gorgeous with cheese or cold meat.

    Looking forward to steaming up the windows again later!

  2. Hi there

    Have just made my first batch of Jelly and dare i say it…OMG ! bit long winded but well worth it in the end, I am also an avid chilli grower and made two jars with Apache Chillies finely chopped into them…If you are brave enough you have got to try this!!

  3. Fiona Nevile

    Hello Kate

    Jelly does thicken slightly over time (like a month) especially if it has cellophane lids.

  4. I’ve made quince jelly for the last few years & think it’s wonderful.
    Last year’s batch was not really set enough so this year I got a thermometer. I made lots yesterday & am now worrying that this may not be set firmly enough. Will it become firmer or should I try to remake it as I’ve seen on some websites? I don’t think I over-boiled it.

  5. Fiona Nevile

    Hello Margaret

    That sounds delicious – can’t wait to try it out. Thanks for sharing!

    Hope the membrillo turns out well.

  6. Margaret

    Have been reading all the comments on quinces with interest. A couple of years ago a friend gave me a few quinces from her garden so I cut them up whole, just covered them with water and simmered them until very soft. I mashed up the softened fruit and then put it all in a jelly bag but got only about half a pint of juice so I added the same of apple juice that I had already frozen. I added 1lb sugar to the juice and boiled it until setting point was reached and then poured it into small sterile jars, having first put a teaspoon of calvados in the bottom of each jar. Purists will no doubt call this sacrilege but Wow! it is so good. I have since made a similar jelly using half quince and half apricot juice with honey and brandy instead of calvados. It’s worth trying a jar or two and, nicely labelled, makes a lovely small gift. About to try membrillo this year and thank you for all the great advice.

  7. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Eve

    Freeze some pulp too. Recipe coming soon for Seville orange marmalade with quince.

  8. Really informative forum on quinces which was just what I was after. Now off to boil up a very good crop of fruit from quite young bushes. Mostly greenish fruit with pink blush but also bright yellow small ones from another bush. I have had some success for 3 years now following your basic recipe but am very interested to read about making Membrillo from the pulp. Always seems a waste to discard it. Thanks again.

  9. For the first time, this year I have a whole slew of quinces off my Chaenomeles japonica and I’m going to try your recipe. 🙂 It sounds as if these fruit go a long way, which is a lovely thought.

    I like your blog and I’ve linked it to my own house and garden blog (“The Sow’s Ear) at

    Kate H.
    Southwestern Pennsylvania

  10. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Bonnie

    Isn’t it great when you can tell someone else how to cook quinces.

    Sadly they are not in the shops here, yet.

    I’ve never squeezed my jelly bags but other people do say that it doesn’t turn the jelly cloudy.

    Hi Dr Jules

    Brilliant that you found the site useful. Quince jelly is one of my favourites.

    The apple guava jelly sounds delish.

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