Autumn Jelly from Heaven

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.

Paradise Jelly

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.

25 thoughts on “Autumn Jelly from Heaven”

  1. Where did you find your quince? We have one local grower at our farmers’ market who carries them and she’s sold out for the season. None of the other farmers have heard of them. Any ideas?

    1. I have two Pineapple quince trees that I planted 17 to 18 years ago.
      The quince was once a very common garden tree, so you might check with owners of old houses (especially farmhouses) in your area. Also, organizations that connect farmers to local consumers are rising up around the country. If you can find a website for such an organization in your area, you may be able to locate somebody with a quince tree, or a whole quince orchard, in no time at all.

  2. Hi Linda! It’s Sheila, thanks for posting the recipe. I’ll have to try it your way – I usually make the quince juice separately, then do the apples and cranberries together and just mix the 2 resulting juices in equal proportions. I also use only 3/4C of sugar to each cup of juice, but sometimes have problems with set, so maybe increasing the sugar will help.

    I don’t know how my great-grandma made this, but after I gave a jar to my (then) 98-yr old great uncle last year he told me that there used to be a quince tree on the property (probably closer to the house where my cousin now lives than the one we built on the “back 40”), and that this was his favorite! We still have the apple trees, but the quince must have been cut down (and I don’t know where they would have gotten cranberries from, there are wild blueberries in the woods but no cranberries). Since we’re in CT, not IL, I don’t think great-grandma saw the Ladies’ Aid cookbook, but the recipe must have made its way east sometime in the 20’s, unless it originated in New England (with the cranberries) and worked its way west?

    @chickinboots – I did exactly what Linda suggests – noticed a quince tree by an old barn as I was driving past and stopped to ask the owner if we could pick. Just be sure to pick unblemished fruit – my DH wasn’t so discriminating, and anything that had the slightest soft brown spot turned out to be wormy.

    1. Paradise Jelly appeared in the 1920 edition of The Settlement Cookbook and in the 1921 Atlanta Woman’s Cookbook, so either the recipe originated before 1917 or else it spread like wildfire. I’m hoping that someone will find an earlier version of the recipe.

    1. It been a long time, but here is a hint. Put the quince in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Cool. They will slice like apples.

      1. Thank you for this trick! I will do it shortly.
        And thank goodness I waited for that telephone call and googled Paradise Jelly. I’ve been making it for YEARS, using the fruit of ORNAMENTAL QUINCE bushes (lucky neighbor gets 4-6 jars of jelly in return for his much smaller quinces.)

  3. Thanks for the suggestions! I did find an old apple orchard a few streets from my house with a couple of quince trees. The owner was more than happy to let me pick some. Paradise Jelly here I come! 🙂

  4. Yeah! Let us know how it goes. Oh, and that knife – make sure it’s a big one, these things are *hard*! (Linda didn’t mention it, but I cut off the stem and blossom ends and discard them – oh, and make sure you rub all the fuzz off when you wash them.)

  5. I’m trying to decide between getting a jelly bag (jellies are so pretty, but I’m more of a jam gal) or making your quince-cranberry recipe instead of a paradise version. Either way, I am so glad it’s quince season!

    1. You might get sufficiently clear juice, Val, by using a fine strainer. If you buy a muslin jelly bag, you might end up disappointed; mine is made of cloth too tightly woven to allow pectin-rich juice to drip through. My nylon jelly bag works fine, though.

  6. Quince jelly is so heavenly!! I had access to free quince (my father-in-law’s tree) and made jelly every year but sadly it was blown over in a storm last year. I have some saplings planted and it’s going to be hard to wait. I wish more people grew them. They are so good baked too!

    1. The popularity of quinces seems to be slowly growing. They’re wonderful baked whole, mixed with apples in pies and sauce, sauteed in butter, simmered in wine, made into wine and liqueur, etc., etc. I really don’t understand why quinces went out of style in this country. Maggie, I hope your little trees grow up fast and healthy.

  7. I wish I would have seen this back in 2011 when everyone was commenting. I grew up making Paradise jelly with my grandma. She was born in Jamestown, CA in 1903 and the family moved to WA state in about 1915 and settled in the Yakima Valley not long after that. She married an orchardist so there were always apples and there was a quince bush/tree on the farm too. She used pectin at least from the 1970s and always prepared the juices separately, as I still do. The apple cores and peelings are used for jelly juice and the fruit is used for pies or sauce. She used Jonathan apples but I can’t find them anymore, this year I used Winesaps (which we also grew on the farm). I don’t remember if we peeled the quince back then but I doubt it…too hard! Luckily enough there is a huge quince bush in the town where I live that belonged to our daycare when the kids were small. I’ve managed to retain access to the fruit through a couple different owners of the property by exchanging them for jelly. 🙂 One of the best things about October is the heavenly smell of quince! Too bad I didn’t like them in cobbler I made or poached. Once you cook them they don’t have the same smell or taste at all. I read that they can be used in stews and after tasting them cooked I can see how that is possible, though I haven’t tried it myself yet. My Paradise jelly turned out great this year and I have more juice in my freezer for when we run out. Happy holidays everyone.

    1. The flavor of quinces can take some getting used to. In jellies, jam, pastes, and desserts, try combining them with cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, and other spices. Try adding just one quince to an apple or pear crisp or compote for a tart contrast to the sweeter fruit. Cut quinces into wedges and roast them with wedges of potato, sweet potato, or winter squash along with a sprig of rosemary. You may be hooked on this fruit before you know it.

      1. I’ll try some of these. The cinnamon in the cobbler didn’t work for my taste buds, but adding cardamom and ginger would probably help. I think you’re right about using them with other fruits and vegetables, they are too wonderful not to use, I just need to find the right recipes. Thanks for your ideas, Linda!

  8. I prep quince by washing the fuzz off, and par-baking them in the oven until they are tender enough to cut/chop easily. I’ve also heard you can freeze them whole and thaw to make the chopping easier. However, I rarely have room in my freezer for that so haven’t tried it.

    1. I have frozen quinces whole, not to make chopping easier but because this is simply an easy, quick preservation method, if you have room in your freezer. Whole or sliced, quinces freeze beautifully.

  9. I am from Louisiana. This recipe sounds wonderful. The old recipe did not make its way here, nor did the quince trees. Where can I find quince or can any other fruit be subbed for it?

    1. Camillia, quinces may still be available in some stores, but probably not in Louisiana. You can certainly substitute apples for the quinces–firm, tart apples, preferably with some astringency. The jelly won’t be the same, but it will still be good.

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