This recipe began around July when Adam’s quince tree showed me that it definitely had some fruit this year. Adam owns and operates Adam’s Berry Farm and is our neighbor down in the Intervale. Quinces must be harvested before a frost, and then put in cold storage for about a month before they can be used. I asked Adam if he could part with a few quinces and he gave me the green light to go for it! There was a frost forecasted for October 14, a Wednesday, and I knew this was my day to acquire those amazingly fragrant fruits! I merrily approached the tree only to find that it was completely stripped of fruit! No fruit in sight! I was completely crestfallen – what had happened? I found Adam, who told me that he had his crew take the fruits off since he knew there was a frost coming – they were all safely stored in the cooler. Terrific! All I had to do was wait a month and come up with a recipe for my quinces. I am a big fan of Spanish cuisine, and am always looking for an excuse to make something Spanish – here was a unique opportunity to make one of my favorite Spanish treats – membrillo, quince paste! This is a super-delicious paste made only with sugar and quinces, that gels on its own because of its naturally high pectin content. You slice it into cubes, and then into triangles (tradition alone dictates the shape), and you eat slices with manchego cheese as a tapas dish, dessert, or simply an intermezzo, or in my case a regular snack! A quick search online revealed several identical recipes (pretty clear that there is one way to make it), plus some knowledge about the paste – in Portuguese it’s called marmelada, and in fact their word for quince fruit is marmelo – I could hardly wait to see if membrillo tasted remotely like marmelade – one of my favorite sweet spreads. I gathered my equipment and got to it – here’s the process:
Peel and chop the quinces. Place in a large pot – 6-8 quarts. I had about 4 pounds of quinces – that was 12 of them.
Add two 2-inch peels of lemon rind – try not to get too much of the white pith.
I added a split vanilla bean, but this is optional. Add water and boil until quinces are fork-tender. This took about 30 minutes for my batch.
Strain the quinces off the liquid. Discard the liquid. Remove the vanilla bean, if using, and scrape out the seeds into the quinces. Leave lemon rind pieces in with the quinces.
Puree the quinces and lemons and vanilla bean seeds together in a food processor until smooth. Measure how many cups of puree you now have. In my case, I had 4 cups. Return to a smaller pot – 3 quart will do nicely, and add the sugar…
The amount of sugar you use depends entirely on the amount of puree you have – they are equal. In my case, I had 4 cups puree – that means I added 4 cups of sugar. Quinces are VERY tart – don’t skimp on the sugar – you’ll regret it!
Slowly cook the puree over a very low heat for 1 to 1.5 hours. On my electric range, that was on the lowest setting, and with the lid off – seemed to cook it slowly enough. You don’t even really want it to bubble. Because of the high sugar content, it could burn easily – slow and low is the key here. Stir often to prevent sticking.
Slowly you will see the magic that is cooking quinces – they turn this lovely rosy deep orange-red color! It a process that, for me, lumps quinces into this category of alchemical cookery; wherin a magical transformation takes place that happens because of the intrinsic nature of the food – sort of like when a natural emulsion occurs between garlic and oil – call me geeky, but food science is fun and provides me with lots of joy!
When your paste is super thick, deep rich in color, you are ready to mold it! Prepare an 8×8 cake pan with pieces of parchment – lightly butter the parchment for ease of removal. In my case, I had some larger pieces in my puree that I wanted to strain out, so I passed it through a mesh sieve before pouring it into my mold so that it was a homogenous consistency. Place in a 250 degree oven for 30 minutes to encourage more drying out, then place on counter until completely cool or overnight.
Et voila! You have made membrillo! Un mold the paste from your pan by lifting out the paste on the parchment sling-like. Cut up and enjoy!
It spreads nicely – and don’t forget the manchego for a traditional touch! By the way – it does taste remarkably like a fragrant good marmelade. Makes you wonder if the use of oranges to make marmelade was just trying to mimic the quince paste… sooooo delicious!
For storage, cut up the remaining pieces and layer in an container between parchment. Should keep for several weeks in the fridge. Enjoy!!!!