Late October brings an interesting addition to stands heaped with orange squashes and red apples at the Greenmarkets in New York: a strange green fruit, seemingly under-ripened, knobby and oddly leathery, with just the faintest unidentifiable smell of sweetness. Few farmers carry this elusive fruit, and finding one is an annual mission of ours.
The fruit is quince, or membrillo. And we got lucky last week:
We bought them out. (They only had five and a half pounds, anyways.)
Despite its green-apple façade, quince is not a fruit to be eaten raw. It’s hard and unpalatable. Sour, even.
So why the annual mission, you might ask? Because when you cook down a few pounds with some sugar, this otherwise foreboding fruit is magically transformed into a succulent, malbec-red dulce de membrillo, or quince paste. Cut a corner and eat it with machego or something sharp, like cheddar, and heaven! A little bite of Argentina we can’t ever get enough of. En fin. An October tradition we’d be only too happy to repeat in March, as our batch never lasts much past the New Year.
dulce de membrillo (quince paste).
This somewhat unorthodox method was passed down by my aunt, who has decades of membrillo making experience under her belt, and developed it one autumn when her quince tree wouldn’t let up. (She gifted that tree soon after!)
DYK: Quince peel and cores naturally have a lot of pectin!
- A lemon or two
- canning jars with new tops
- A candy thermometer
For reference, in terms of amounts:
I normally start with about 4 lbs of quince. This roughly yields 1,600-1,700 grams pulp (flesh + peel), which requires 1,100-1,350 grams sugar. This makes 80-82 oz of jam, which I like to can in 4oz jars–the perfect amount to open for a cheese plate–but works just as well in 8oz jars. I use the juice of one lemon for this amount.
1. Wash the quince very well, making sure to clean off all of its natural fuzz. Use a clean, soap-free brush if necessary. Cut quince into halves.
2. Put halves in a large no reactive pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, and boil gently for about 20 minutes, until the flesh is soft and yields to a knife. You want it to be soft but not mush-the fruit should mostly still look whole and not disintegrated. Strain the quince, reserving the cooking water, and let cool slightly.
3. Once cool, use a fork and sharp knife to remove the core and seeds from each half. You’ll use the flesh and the peel here. Try to get as much pulp as possible. Use a stick blender to blend the pulp and peels to a smooth paste. A food processor also works here. If you don’t have either, dice the flesh and peel as much as you can. (You could a regular blender, but I personally find that too much is lost in the transfer.) Note: Unlike much other fruit, the quince won’t totally disintegrate when cooked, so the consistency of the paste at this point is pretty much what you’ll get at end. i.e. it will continue to be chunky if you start out chunky.
NB: This is a sticky sticky fruit, even before you add sugar, so be prepared!
4. Weigh the pulp.
5. Return the pulp to the pot you boiled it in. For each kilo (1,000 grams) of pulp, add 700 – 750 grams of sugar. Use a heat proof spatula or spoon and mix until combined. Add some of the cooking water — it will sit on top of the paste at first. We usually add about a fingernail’s depth worth. Mix again until combined. (Keep that cooking liquid – you may need more later.) Finally, add the juice of one large lemon, and mix again.
6. Bring the fruit slowly up to boil, stirring often. When it starts to bubble and pop, reduce the heat to low and continue this very slow “boil.” The paste is thick and it will continue to bubble even on the lowest heat. Cook in the fashion, stirring often, until the quince reaches 220 F degrees. The paste will become an orangey red color, and will leave a clean trace when you drag a spatula across the bottom of the pot. This takes 90 minutes to two hours. Sometimes, I pull it off at 210 F, because the paste is clearly done in terms of color and consistency. It’s pretty forgiving.
If it the mixture starts to dry out, add a bit more of the original cooking water.
Note: You might want to use an oven mitt when stirring – exploding quince burns!
7. Meanwhile, prep your jars. Wash them with hot soapy water, then submerge in boiling water for 5 minutes. Throw the clean tops and lids in the boiling water for 1 minute. Spread on a clean dish towel or paper towels. ￼
8. When the membrillo is ready, carefully spoon into the sterilized jars. Clean off any jam around the edges with a clean paper towel (this would prevent a good seal.) Seal tightly, turn the jars over and let them cool completely.