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. 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.
The lovely thing about membrillo is you can make a big batch of it, stick it in the fridge, and it's there, at the ready. A cube of membrillo, a sharp cheese, a nice cutting board and voila! A show-stopping hors d'oeuvres - sweet, biting, beautifully holiday-colored - that requires a little foresight and practically no work on party day!
If you’re feeling ambitious, hold on to the peels and cores and make jalea, or jelly. It’s delicious swirled into yogurt or hot breakfast cereals, or on pancakes. We’d bet it make for interesting fall cocktails too, given its syrupy consistency! —yclaraquesi
- Serves : depends on how much fruit you start with!
- paste ('dulce')
- jelly ('jalea')
The peels, cores and cooking water of part one (paste)
canning jars with new tops
- paste ('dulce')
- Wash the quince and cut into halves or quarters.
- Put in a large pot and cover with abundant water. Boil until the flesh is soft but firm. Don’t let it go too long – mushy fruit is hard to peel! Strain the quince, reserving the cooking water, and let cool.
- Once cold, peel the quince and remove the cores. Set the peels and cores aside for the jalea. Cut the fruit into small pieces. The size of the pieces will determine how smooth or ‘chunky’ the resulting paste is – we always chop ours quite small. Unlike other fruit, the quince won’t totally disintegrate when cooked. (A note that this is a sticky sticky fruit, even before you add sugar, so be prepared.)
- Weigh the pulp.
- Return the pulp to your pot and add a little of the cooking water, just enough to cover the fruit. Add sugar. For each kilo of pulp, add 700 – 750 grams of sugar. It seems like a lot of sugar, yes, but quince is not particularly sweet and the sugar is important for color and caramelizing! We usually air on the 700g side, but not less.
- Cook on medium heat, stirring every few minutes, until the fruit begins to boil. Reduce to low heat and cook, stirring every few minutes, until a paste forms. (You might want to use an oven mitt when stirring – exploding quince burns!) If it the mixture starts to dry out, add a bit more of the original cooking water.
- Use the back of your spoon to smash large chunks of fruit during the cooking process. If you still have large pieces and would prefer a smoother membrillo, use a whisk to whip the fruit into a smoother paste about an hour into the cooking process (you’ll definitely want oven mitts this time!)
- The membrillo is done when it’s a beautiful, burgundy-wine red, and has a spreadable consistency. It will begin to hold its form and pull away from the sides of the pot when you stir it. This normally takes 1 hour and 20 minutes, depending on the amount of fruit, heat, and pot.
- Optional: if you have a bottle of excellent (Argentinean!) red wine on hand, add about a cup to the fruit 50 or so minutes into the process, and allow it to cook in/off. The wine will deepen the color and temper the sugar.
- Pour into a glass baking dish. Cool completely, seal tightly, and refrigerate. The membrillo will keep in the fridge for months.
- jelly ('jalea')
- Sterilize your canning jars by boiling them in water for ten minutes. Place them mouth side down on paper towels until they’re needed. Boil the canning rings just a moment or they will melt. Make sure you have new canning tops on hand.
- Put the peels and cores in what’s left over of the original cooking water.
- Boil for a good while, at least an hour.
- Strain the water into a new pot, reserving the peels and cores once again. Allow the peels and cores to cool. Wrap them in cheesecloth and wring them out until you’ve extracted the pectin – a slippery, viscous liquid. Add this to the strained cooking water – it’s what will enable your jelly to thicken.
- Measure the liquid.
- Bring to a boil, and add sugar. For each liter of liquid, add half a kilo of sugar. Again, don’t cut out too much sugar here or the jelly won’t set. Boil, stirring constantly, for about an hour (oven mitts!). When the jelly turns the same burgundy-wine red of the membrillo, and the foam along the edges of the pot is white and thick, test the jelly’s consistency by putting a spoonful on a plate and letting it cool. Do so until it cools to the consistency you’d like, but don’t overcook or the jelly will crystallize.
- Spoon the jelly into your sterilized cans and seal. If you’re going to keep them for a long time, can them properly by then boiling the filled and sealed jars for another 10 minutes. We usually eat la jalea within the month, though, so we just pop it in the fridge and hope for the best!