How I Use Japanese Quince From My Forest Garden


When I moved into my current home in 2014, there was already quite a lot growing in the garden. In one shady shrub border at the edge of the walled orchard, I found a rather straggly but healthy Japanese quince (Chaenomeles japonica). This shrub thrives even in the relatively shaded location, flowering in spring with beautiful bright red flowers and fruiting in October/November. 

An extremely low maintenance plant, this shrub thrives without any attention at all, coping with temperatures down to -25˚ Celsius (-13˚ Fahrenheit) and so easily able to withstand winter conditions in even the most extreme years here in Scotland.

In my orchard (which is now a forest garden), it is sandwiched between a very vigorous Oregon grape (Mahonia) and an overgrown barberry (Berberis), and yet it still provides us with a small number of fruits each year.

I was very glad to find it here, since it is a great ornamental plant that provides for pollinators during the crucial period when the fruit trees are in blossom and also provides edible fruit later in the year. Although I was familiar with the plant, I had never tasted its fruit before.

Over the past few years, I have enjoyed experimenting with the fruit to find out the best ways to use them. So I thought I would share with you how I like to use Japanese quince from my forest garden, for others who may be considering growing this plant or who want to make use of the fruits on an existing shrub.

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Can They Be Eaten Raw?

The small apple-like fruits of Japanese quince are certainly not eaten raw, since they are simply too acidic and astringent. Unlike the typical quince, you would never eat these straight from the garden. However, you should not let this put you off, since there are a range of other ways to use these fruits if they are growing in your garden. 

Using It as a Lemon Juice Substitute

For recipes that require some acidity, Japanese quince (like gooseberries that are underripe) can be juiced and used as a substitute for lemon juice. This can be useful in climates where lemons are difficult to grow.

In order to squeeze the fruits like a lemon, you need to wait for the fruits to be softened by the first few hard frosts, as they stay very hard before this time. The juice of Japanese quince actually contains more vitamin C than lemon juice, as well as other nutrients, so it can be healthy to add a bit to a morning juice or smoothie.

Japanese Quince Jams and Jellies

These fruits come into their own when cooked into a sweet preserve. High in pectin, they make it easy to ensure that your preserves will set. Japanese quince jellies and jams don’t taste like those made from regular quinces, but they do have a great taste and aroma. 

You can also simply toss some of the hard fruits into the pan when you are making other jellies and jams, to help those made with fruits lower in pectin to set.

Japanese Quince and Apples—the Perfect Pairing

While Japanese quince can certainly be used on its own to make a jam, jelly, or other preserve, I have found that I particularly enjoy pairing these fruits with apples. In preserves, and in pies and other desserts, I like the somewhat acidic yet fragrant addition that the Japanese quince makes in apple recipes. A Japanese quince and apple jam is one of my favorites—a tart spread almost like a citrus marmalade to spread on toast.

Candied Japanese Quince Slices

There are other ways to use these fruits, such as creating candied Japanese quince slices. Simply boil slices with seeds removed in a sugar syrup to yield candied slices for a sweet snack, or for use as cake toppers, or in baking.

Japanese Quince-Infused Honey

Another way to use these fruits is to boil the hard fruits in jars filled with honey for an infusion that tastes fantastic. I don’t have my own bees here, but if you do, this could be something to consider. You can even use these outside the kitchen. The hard fruits are very fragrant and can impart a lovely fragrance to linens or to your home.

But to conclude, I find that using Japanese quince alongside apples is the winning formula, and any recipe pairing these two always goes down best in my home.


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