The quince is the last fruit that can be harvested in Germany before the cold and dark winter sets in. Especially among the older generation, it is very common to have a quince tree in the garden. There are two primary ways to preserve this tasty fruit. You can either cook a quince jelly or you can cook a quince compote.
The recipe for quince compote that I am showing you here is meant for immediate consumption. It uses only two large quinces (about 1 pound) so that it only makes four small servings. However, you can also scale-up the recipe if you have a quince tree.
For preserving the compote, it’s best to fill it into sterilized mason jars while still piping hot. If you intend to eat the compote within a few months, that is usually sufficient to preserve it. However, if you want to be on the safe side and preserve it for several years, then you should place the filled mason jars in a hot water bath and leave them in there at 90 °C (195 °F) for about 30 minutes.
Many people in Germany, my family included, have these large electric preserving cookers from the German company Weck (‘Weck Einkochautomat’). If you have a large garden and often preserve things then these preserving cookers are a really useful tool. They can be used to sterilize mason jars, heat a water bath to a specified temperature, and often also act as a juicer. We always juice a large number of our homegrown sour cherries. Mixed with other sweet fruit juices or kombucha tea, sour cherry juice makes a very delicious beverage.
I’m sure anyone with a big garden and many fruit trees is familiar with a large variety of preservation techniques. While living in the US, I was very surprised that preserving cookers are not a common household item there. They are becoming less common here in Germany too but I’m sure many Germans have at least some grandma that has one of the Weck preserving cookers.
My family always makes so many different varieties of jam, marmalade, and compote. We never have to buy any fruit preserves at the supermarket. But I guess if you didn’t grow up with a large garden, then it is less common to preserve food. Especially nowadays, where you can get fresh produce all year round. We are lucky that we don’t have to rely on canned food anymore to make it through the cold season in Germany.
How to prepare quince compote
I know that quince is not as ubiquitous in North America as it is in Europe so I might explain a few things that are obvious to people with a European background. If you don’t have any experience with cooking quince there a few things you should be aware of:
- You need to work quickly when peeling and cutting quince because it will start to turn brown immediately after it has been cut (much faster than an apple). If you prepare a large batch, it is helpful to place the cut quince pieces in a water bath that has a little lemon juice or white vinegar added to it to preserve the yellow color.
- Only a few varieties of quince are suitable for raw consumption. These are mainly Middle Eastern cultivars and not the German ones. Raw quince in Germany usually tastes bitter and sour. The tannins in the fruit pulp of quince are responsible for the bitter taste. However, cooked quince is always delicious and neither extremely sour nor bitter.
- The seeds of the quince contain prussic acid. If you damage the seeds, the toxic prussic acid gets released into the pulp. Prussic acid has a very low boiling temperature of 26 °C (80 °F) so that it just evaporates while cooking jam or compote. Cooked quince, even with seeds, is no health risk. However, you shouldn’t eat raw quince seeds. Quince is no apple or passion fruit.
- It’s normal that raw quince is very hard and woody. It can be quite challenging to cut, comparable to a pumpkin.
- European quince cultivars, especially if not fully ripe, often have a small layer of grey fuzz around them. You need to carefully wash this one off before peeling the quince as it is very bitter.
When cooking quince compote, I like my fruit to retain a little bite. I think that 15-20 minutes is enough to tenderize the quince. However, if you like your compote very soft you can extend the cooking time as long as you want. The same goes for the amount of sugar added to the compote. I don’t like my compote to be sweet candy. If you like it sweeter, you can add more sugar to taste.
For me, compote tastes best cooled down to room temperature which gives the quince more time to soak up the flavor from the poaching liquid. You can, however, also enjoy it hot.