Membrillo or quince is a Mediterranean fruit recorded back to medieval times that looks like a hybrid between a pear and an apple. Due to its dry flesh and astringent tart flavor, it is invariably consumed cooked as a preserve - as in the case of membrillo, which is typically served with a variety of cheeses. I typically buy my membrillo at Spanish specialty stores or more upscale grocery stores. However, for my book launch party, where I was serving the quintessential manchego and membrillo pairing, I had a case of “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”… except it involved quinces and not lemons! You see… I reached out to a friend who is the executive chef of a well-known catering company here in Miami and asked where I could find membrillo in bulk. She checked with her purveyors and told me not to worry that she would get me the 4 pounds I needed and that I owed nothing. A few days later, we got together so I could retrieve the sought-after product from her. To my surprise, she brought me fresh quinces! I guess I should have been more specific on my request as often membrillo (quince) is used interchangeably with dulce de membrillo (quince paste). But I was thrilled as I love to make preserves and, in the process, I discovered that it is very straightforward to make quince paste. If you live in an area blessed with quinces, I would encourage you to try making it from scratch… your guests will surely be impressed!
4 pounds quince
2 vanilla pods, split
2 strips (about 2 inches long each) of lemon zest.
3 Tbsp lemon juice
About 2 lbs sugar (approximately 4 cups), depending on how much pulp you get
Wash, peel, and core the quinces. Roughly chop the flesh and put in a large saucepan (6-8 quarts) and cover with water. Add the vanilla pods and lemon peels and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and let cook until the quince is soft and can be easily pierced with a fork, about 40-50 minutes.
Place the quince pieces in colander and strain the water . Discard the vanilla pods and the lemon peels. Purée the quince pieces in a food processor, blender, or a food mill. Weigh the quince purée and use the same amount of sugar… If you have 2 pounds of purée, you'll need 2 pounds of sugar. Return the quince purée to the large pan and heat to medium-low. Add the sugar and stir until the sugar has completely dissolved. Add the lemon juice. Continue to cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 hours, until the quince paste is very thick and has a deep orange pink color.
Preheat oven to 200°F. Line the bottom and sides of a 8x8 baking pan with parchment paper. Grease the parchment paper with a thin coating of cooking oil. Pour the cooked quince paste into the parchment paper-lined baking pan. Smooth out the top of the paste so it is even. Place in the oven for about two hours with the door slightly ajar to help it dry. Remove from oven and let cool. When ready to serve, turn out onto a cutting board, peel the parchment paper and cut into squares or wedges.
Photography courtesy of Javier Peñas and Pablo Neustadt/ICEX España Exportación e Inversiones