(This recipe is quick, but the introduction is long.)
In our backyard, our quince tree shares a fence with the only neighbour who doesn’t want a wall or fence between us. It hangs over the high netting wire into their yard and together we share the quinces with the birds and possums.
It’s still a young tree (actually there’s two trees planted close together, it forms one bush. Quinces are self fertile but apparently pollinate better when in pairs. It must have been about four years old when we came to Bungendore. (They crop after five years, it’s now over er, um fifteen.)
These trees give us about 10-20 good sized quinces each year except for the last few years of drought. We eat the fresh (Jan makes a great quince and apple flan with them), and we’ve even made a fine, strongly perfumed quince jelly.
We then resolved to try making our own Membrillo, quince paste. (Membrillo is specifically quince in the Spanish, but the product is common all through the Middle East with various names). My first taste of quince paste was probably one of Maggie Beer’s Pheasant Farm Quince Pastes, but at right is the great label for the Spanish Corazón del Sol (that’s Heart of the Sun – if that’s not being too patronizing) and is available from most supermarkets. Membrillo is traditionally eaten with cheese but it is nice spread on good bread just by itself.
“Membrillo” means quince, and “dulce de membrillo” is candied quince paste. Most people call the latter “membrillo” too, for short. In Mexico, apparently if you call someone a “membrillo” you’re calling them “a sucker” in a cute way. In Hispanic markets you can buy these pastes made from quince (membrillo), guava, and mango”.
Quince paste really does match well with hard cheeses. It is fantastic with cloth wrapped cheddars (like the traditional English Quicks, or Australia’s Maffra cloth bound cheddar. Dusted with icing sugar, and sliced, it sits well on any desert platter, and is as good as any imported paste or jellies. And special because you made it.
It sometimes takes us a while however, to get around to making it. Sitting in a pile on the sideboard (the house is pleasantly perfumed with quinces for a week or two) the codling moth grubs inside them keep chewing, so we cut around them a bit but that doesn’t matter to the result.
Most jams have an equal weight of sugar to fruit, but for the paste, I baulked at the prescribed two to one sugar/fruit ratio and reversed it. It still sets well and tastes great. If it doesn’t last as long, we’ve never noticed. I keep ours in a plastic container in the fridge, with slices separated by oven paper.
The use of the microwave makes this version very easy to do. I just push the softened pulp through a sieve, but if you’ve got a food processor with that kind of strainer, go for it.
Recipe: Membrillo – Quince Paste
2 lb quinces
1 lb sugar (more if you’re needing to keep it)
Juice of one lemon
Wipe the fur off the quinces, quarter, and cut out core but leave skin on. Steam in a little water till soft. Rub fruit through a sieve. Boil sugar and 1/2 cup water, stir until dissolved. Leaving it simmer (carefully) will make a darker syrup. Then add it to fruit and stir. In a shallow open dish, microwave on medium, or half power until the paste is thick – about 40 minutes.
The liquid bubbles and thickens, changing from yellow to pink. (One of the magic and delightful aspects of quinces.) Scrape the edges into the middle and stir occasionally.
It is ready when you can turn it with a spoon and it stays glued together. If you want to put it into containers and keep it spreadable, now is the time to do it.
Put it onto greaseproof paper and shape it into squares, about 25cm / an inch thick. Dry it for several days in a warm place. The right hand picture shows it spread on a plastic sheet in our food dryer which is then left on overnight, then we cut it up. You can also use a barely warm oven for a few hours. Drying improves its shelf life, but you can of course eat it soft, spoon it into containers with a tight lid and keep in the fridge.
If you’ve a sweet tooth, serve straight with coffee and it’s a great substitute where you might use Turkish delight.