Quince and Making Membrillo

My backyard trees seem to be serving as inspiration for this blog.  One of my newer trees is a Pineapple Quince growing in a very large pot on a southeast facing balcony.  Quince trees are native to Asia in the Caucasus - places like Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Iran, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Pakistan, Kashmir, and Afghanistan. It is now cultivated throughout the Mediterranean and popular in Moroccan, Persian, Romanian and Balkan cuisines. My Pineapple Quince is just one on several cultivars of the quince.  It has a slight scent and taste of pineapple and needs few chill hours to produce fruit making it a good choice for a southern California garden. 

Cultivation of the quince is likely to have predated the apple.  If Eve, in the biblical story of Adam and Eve really did eat some sort of fruit, it would most likely have been a quince rather than an apple. When translated from early writing, the word quince is often replaced with apple.  I became enamored with quince a few years ago while exploring Moroccan cuisine.  It is often a listed as an ingredient in tajines where it is braised.  I realized I had never seen or tasted quince so started looking for them.  I found quince at a middle eastern market. As you can see, it looks like a cross between a pear and an apple. Quince can apparently be eaten raw if grown in very warm climates but it typically cooked. Slow cooking brings out its sweetness and high tannins turn it a reddish brown color. 

Quince - looks a bit like a cross between a pear and a apple.

I have now cooked quince in a tajine, made it into quince jelly and quince syrup  but my favorite use it to make membrillo.  Membrillo or quince paste is made in Spain and South America. It is very different from jam or jelly as it is sets into a block and can be sliced with a knife.  It is sometimes called “fruit cheese.” Membrillo can be served for breakfast on toast. It can be baked as a filling in pastries.  It can be cut in small squares and dusted with powdered sugar and served as a candy. Most traditionally it is  served with Manchego cheese, crackers and Marcona almonds.  That is my favorite use.  It lasts for a long time in the refrigerator so is a great last minute appetizer.  The fruit ripens just in time for making membrillo as a homemade holiday gift. Super easy to make, you just need a lazy morning or afternoon at home to let it cook down on the stove top for a few hours. 

ingredients for membrillo

To making membrillo simply remove the seeds and core and chop up the quince. There is no need for peeling as the thin peel soon dissolves in cooking. Mix the chopped quince with 4 cups of water, 4 cups of sugar and a 1/4 cup of lemon juice.  Bottled lemon juice is recommended.  Fresh squeezed lemon juice varies considerably in acidity level and by using bottled juice you can be assured of a 5% acidity level that is important for preserving.

Blond Quince

Begin to simmer your chopped quince.  It will soon break down and look like applesauce with this blond color.  Now is when you must be patient, simmering it for about 3 hours and turns red.

Red quince paste

Red quince paste

The quince has now turn a brown red and is very thick.  It is ready to pour into a container lined with plastic so it can be easily removed when it hardens.

Membrillo or quince pasted in pan with appetizer ingredients

I poured the quince in this 9x9 glass baking dish. Another option is to pour it in a loaf pan.  Either way, it can be easy removed and cut to serve.  Traditionally it is served with Manchego cheese, a Spanish sheep's milk cheese with a rind that looks like a tire and Marcona almonds.  These Marcona almonds have rosemary seasoning so I use a sprig of rosemary to garnish.

Quince, cheese and almonds ready to serve

Serve, either "do it yourself" style so guests cut there own quince and cheese or create individual appetizers.  Crackers can be a nice addition. 

Membrillo appetizer