Quinces are a unique and fragrant fruit, but only recently have I seen non-specialty grocery stores start carrying them. Shaped somewhat like a deformed apple, quinces are native to Asia and have been consumed for thousands of years by the Greeks and Romans. When ripe, quinces have a strong aroma reminiscent of apples, pears, and tropical fruit like guava. Quinces start turning up in the tropical/weird fruit aisles of grocery stores in mid-Fall when the leaves start to turn. Typically astringent and sour when consumed raw, quinces lose this character when cooked and become sweet and fragrant- often finding their way into jams, preserves, and jellies due to their high pectin content. Thankfully, you can also get all of these unique quince characteristics by infusing them in alcohol and turning them into a fragrant and mellow amber liqueur. Quinces make for a unique and delicious liqueur that I've yet to see on any store shelves, and make for a truly great gift or a way to weather the holidays.
Step 1: What You'll Need
- 2-3 large quinces (or more, depending on container size)
- Quantity of decent vodka, or other suitable hard liquor (enough to fill container)
- Quart sized mason jar (or other airtight container)
- Knife and cutting board
- Time (4+ weeks)
- A cool, dry place
- Coffee filters
- 2 or more cups sugar
- Decorative bottle of choice (for finished liqueur)
Time is the most important ingredient here. Select quinces that have a fragrant smell, and aren't too bruised or blemished- since quinces are relegated to the section of the grocery store where weird things go to die, you might have some trouble finding perfect quinces.
Step 2: Preparation: Cleaning
Pick your container. In this case, I used a quart sized mason jar, but any seal-able airtight container of any size will do. Be aware this means you'll need more quinces and more alcohol.
Wash your quinces thoroughly in very hot, soapy water. You don't want your liqueur taking on any wax or pesticides, do you? When it comes to washing and sterilizing your container, a run through the dishwasher should work just fine. If not, run it under scalding hot water with soap until the water runs clear and the jar is very hot to the touch.
Step 3: Preparation: Knifework
You'll need a sharp knife and some cutting skills at this point. Quinces have very hard centers, so be careful when cutting through. You'll want thin slices for your liqueur- the more surface area exposed to alcohol, the better. Make sure to cut out the seeds and pith from the centers of your slices. It took approximately two whole quinces to fill up my quart jar- you may need more or less depending on the size and how you pack your container.
I've seen recipes for grating quinces up and then going through the same process, and am currently making a batch this way- I'll let you know how it goes.
Step 4: Alcohol Time
Time to add the alcohol!
Pack the slices of quince into the mason jar or airtight container of your choice. You'll want to make sure the container is filled with your fruit, but not packed horribly tight- you want the fruit surface to be exposed to the alcohol as much as possible. Fill your container up to the start of the rim, or further. You want to reduce the amount of fruit exposed to the air. Surprisingly enough, decomposing fruit doesn't make for the best liqueur.
Step 5: Time
Seal your container and store it in a cool, dry place for AT LEAST 4 weeks. The longer you let it sit, the stronger the flavor will be. By the end of it the liqueur will have taken on a nice golden-amber hue.
Step 6: Decant and Filter
Once you feel your liqueur has sat long enough- either by taste or impatience, it's time to filter all the particulate and spent fruit from it. Take a funnel along with a standard coffee filter (you may need more than one filtering to catch all the particulate). Pour your liqueur slowly into the funnel taking care not to overfill, and wait for it to drip through to your bottle of choice underneath. Impatience and tapping the funnel to speed it up could lead to a ripped filter, so take your time. You've waited a month, 20 more minutes won't hurt.
You can either discard the fruit now (the flesh will taste bitter and harsh if you try and take a bite) or you can use it in the next step, sweetening your infusion and turning it into a liqueur.
Step 7: Awww Sugar Sugar
Not satisfied with quince infused vodka? Turn it into liqueur! All that's required in this step is the addition of sugar. You can add a dose of simple syrup (be aware this will lower the alcohol content), suffer through trying to get granulated sugar to dissolve on its own (not that big of a deal, actually. Just involves time and a lot of shaking), or use a little handy trick I was taught by my family.
Take the discarded fruit, put it in another sterilized jar and add a cup or two of sugar. After a few days (or more, depends on how impatient you are) you will have a quince syrup forming from the leftover moisture in the fruit and the granulated sugar. Decant this into your liqueur through another funnel and filter combo, and you're ready to sip the holidays away.
Step 8: Serve and Enjoy!
My favorite way to serve quince liqueur (besides on its own with a nice meal) is combining it with other warm fall-time drinks.
A shot of quince liqueur in some hot apple cider will hit the spot on a cold day. You could try using other liquors as well for the infusion such as rum or brandy- let me know how they turn out. Enjoy!