It was Sheila of the unpickled pickles who first mentioned Paradise Jelly to me. What’s that? I wanted to know. It’s a jelly made from quinces, apples, and cranberries, Sheila explained, and it’s been in The Joy of Cooking through all the book’s editions. I was ashamed for never having noticed the JoC recipe, and intrigued by its name. Quinces and apples surely did grow together in those walled Persian gardens from whose ancient name we derive the word paradise, but did those Persians grow cranberries or any sort of Vaccinium—bilberries, whortleberries, lingonberries, huckleberries, blueberries? These are northern plants, I thought. They had no place in Paradise.
Who came up with such a name? I tracked it to one Mrs. Sievers, whose recipe for Paradise Jelly appeared in the cookbook of the Ladies’ Aid Society of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Lombard, Illinois, in 1917. (Whether she produced the first Paradise Jelly I don’t know; if you come upon an earlier recipe, please let me know.) I tried to imagine myself as Mrs. Sievers or her predecessor. Probably the woman’s mind wasn’t in ancient Persia. Did she feel she’d died and gone to heaven when she tasted her jelly?
Maybe she felt that only in heaven could a jelly recipe produce such infallibly beautiful results. Quinces, apples, and cranberries are all rich in pectin, so when you combine them you know your jelly has to set. When you’re rendering quince juice for jelly you normally cook the quinces for a long time, to bring out their redness. With cranberries, though, you can cheat; the berries provide a strong pink color even if you cook all the fruit just until it’s soft. And what a heavenly mix of sweet, tart, spicy flavors you get from these three fruits.
Mrs. Sievers used twenty quinces, ten apples, and a quart of cranberries. Some later recipes, such as the one in JoC, call for more apples than quinces. I decided to try equal weights of each, but feel free to vary the proportion as you like.
Mrs. Sievers’s instructions are simple: “Boil the quinces, apples and cranberries and strain several times. Then measure a cup of sugar for each cup of juice and boil.” Following is my more detailed version of the recipe.
2 1/2 pounds quinces (about 6), sliced thin without coring or peeling (see Note)
2 1/2 pounds apples (about 8), sliced thin without coring or peeling
½ pound (about 1 pint) cranberries
6 cups water
About 4 cups sugar
Put the quince and apple slices into a big kettle, and add the cranberries and the water. Cover the kettle, bring the contents to a boil, and then uncover the kettle and reduce the heat to a gentle boil. Stirring occasionally and crushing the cranberries with a potato masher halfway through, cook the fruits until they are tender, about 15 minutes.
Empty the kettle of fruit into a strainer or colander set over a bowl. When the juice has dripped through, strain it through a jelly bag set over a bowl. Be patient; don’t squeeze the bag.
Measure the juice; you should have about 4 cups. Put the juice into a preserving pan with a cup of sugar for each cup of juice. Heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring gently, until the sugar has completely dissolved. Raise the heat to medium-high, and boil the mixture until it “sheets” from a spoon (221 degrees F).
Remove the pan from the heat. Skim off the foam, and pour the mixture into sterilized half-pint mason jars. (As you can see, I used standard jelly jars, but you might choose short, wide jars instead if you’d like to turn the jelly out onto a plate for the Thanksgiving table or another occasion.) Add lids and rings, and process the jars in a boiling-water for 5 minutes.
Makes about 5 half-pints
Note: The easiest way to slice the quinces is to cut them in half lengthwise, lay each half on its cut face, and then cut the half vertically into thin slices.