a few years ago we had the fortune of traveling through argentina and chile. we first came across membrillo in villa de ventana, a quaint dusty town with artisanal cheeses, sausages and treats. there they used membrillo, as a delicious perfumed rose colored filling for alfajores (think argentinian moon pie). we soon realized that membrillo was generic for anything made with quince. membrillo was served with scones, made into little candies and jars of marmalade. its flavor was mysterious and has stuck with me since.
fast forward to 2011, when quince showed up at the farmers market and we began experimenting with recipes like our savoury quince and onions and a quince cordial. fast forward again to this fall and our purchase of the old chadwick farm and garden project. although the apple orchard was under a mountain of blackberry bushes, the quince were perfect and ready for the picking.
dulce de membrillo, in its proper spanish version, takes time. quince can be tough to peel with their bumps and curious shapes and even tougher to core. this is a nice project for a rainy afternoon particularly with a good friend to help. the cooking process is time consuming, but on the last 20 minutes or so requires your complete attention. this is a fun festive dish for a party and equally nice served with afternoon tea.
4-5 lbs quince
2-4 Tbl fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 cups cane sugar
cheese cloth or large muslin bag
food mill or food processor
copper jam pan or heavy bottomed wide saucepan
peel, core and roughly chop the quince, reserving the peels and cores. place the peels and cores in a large muslin bag or secure in a piece of cheesecloth. add the bag of peels and cores and the chopped quince to a large pot and cover with an inch of cold water. bring to a boil before reducing to a steady simmer. continue cooking until the quince are soft, 40-50 minutes. check occasionally and add just enough water to keep the quince covered while cooking.
when the quince are soft enough to pierce with a fork they are ready. remove from heat and strain, reserving the liquid. allow the everything to cool a bit. squeeze any excess juice from the bag of peels and cores adding to the liquid already set aside and compost the spent peels and cores. send the quince pieces through a food mill or pulse a few times in a food processor adding a bit of the quince liquid if needed to keep it moving.
in a large bowl mix together the quince pulp, 2 cups of the reserved quince liquid, 1 cup of sugar and 2 Tbls of lemon juice. taste and add more sugar or lemon juice if necessary to get the bright flowery taste of the quince to pop. the lemon works here to brighten the flavor of the fruit without actually adding a lemon flavor. i prefer only just enough sugar so the end result is sweet tart and perfumed rather than cloying.
prepare to stand by! add the quince mixture to a copper jam pan or a wide heavy bottomed sauce pot over a medium heat. stir constantly to keep the quince from sticking and burning. over the next 20 to 30 minutes continue stirring as much of the remaining moisture evaporates and the quince mixture thickens into a paste, the consistency of mashed potatoes is about right. remove from heat and allow to cool while you line a pan with parchment paper. spoon the cooled quince paste onto the parchment lined pan and smooth to 3/4 to 1 inch thick with a spatula. use a many pans as necessary to keep the paste consistently 3/4 to 1 inch thick. dehydrate for 12-24 hours at 115 degrees or allow to dry out in an oven on its lowest setting (150 degrees or less) overnight or up to 24 hours. for the most even drying, midway through gently flip the pan of quince paste onto another sheet of parchment paper, removing the old piece from the top and return to the dehydrator or oven (at this point the paste can “stand” on its own without the walls of the pan).
once the quince has dried to a dense mass remove and allow it to cool to room temperature. slice off a piece and enjoy.
the membrillo can be cut into squares or served whole next to a platter of cheeses at a party. membrillo pairs particularly well with manchego and charcuterie.