Sunday, November 7, 2010

Adventures with Quince, or Membrillo

One of my very favorite appetizer/snacks  is Manchego Cheese with Ate de Membrillo, or Cajeta de Membrillo, or even Dulce de Membrillo.  It's very sweet, but with a sharp tartness at the same time, very.... refreshing and tangy. Combined with the mellow, salty funkiness of the manchego... delicious.  Perusing through a neighborhood store the other day, I saw some quince and decided to have a go at it, even though my history with candy is mainly disasters.
You can find this in some stores.

I have consulted dictionaries and translators, and apparently there is no consensus on what  to call this unusual and sweet delight.  Ate is supposed to be "quince jelly" but in Mazatlán you can buy Ate de Guayaba (guava) or Ate de Membrillo (quince), and Mrs. Griggs calls it Cajeta de Membrillo which is quince caramel.  So since there are probably many equally correct names for it, for my purposes, I'll just refer to it as Membrillo, and it is pronounced mem-bree-yo.
Here is what I found in Wikipedia about Membrillo:
"In Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Spain, Uruguay and Venezuela the membrillo, as the quince is called in Spanish, is cooked into a reddish jelly-like block or firm reddish paste known as dulce de membrillo. It is then eaten in sandwiches and with cheese, traditionally manchego cheese, or accompanying fresh curds. In Portugal, a similar sweet is called marmelada. It is also produced and consumed in Hungary where it is called "quince cheese". The sweet and floral notes of carne de membrillo (quince meat) contrast nicely with the tanginess of the cheese.[7] Boiled quince is also popular in desserts such as the murta con membrillo that combines ugni molinae with quince. Similar dish exists in Dalmatia, Croatia."
In Mexico, sometimes membrillo is eaten as jam on toast or rolled in sugar as a candy.

Well, to get to the gist of this tale,  I followed Josephine Griggs' recipe (which had left out an important step).  And then I compounded my mistake by thinking I could leave it in the oven to cook instead of cooking it on the stove top.  ¡Tonta!

And, I hate to admit it, but I did that twice, cooking up two batches of burnt quince jam that didn't set. Aaaarghh!

Finally I found a recipe in Allrecipes that mentioned an essential step: you must drain the water out of your quince before adding an equal amount (in weight) of sugar.  Then add the juice of a lemon and about a teaspoon of salt.
Here are the steps:
1.  Clean and chop your quince. You don't need to peel it.   I used about 6 large ones and got a 10x13 pan full of finished product.  

2.  Cover it in a heavy pan with water and low boil it until soft, around 20 minutes.

3.  Put the quince into the blender and blend it, using only a small amount of the boil water.
Blend it into a fine puree.
Important!  Drain most of the water out!
I didn't use this dish to cook, only for measurement.
4.  Put it back into the pot, add the equal amount in weight of sugar, a teaspoon of salt,  and the juice of a lemon and cook in that heavy bottomed pan over medium low heat. a Give it a good stir every 10 minutes or so.  The color will change from yellowy-tan to a lovely shade of pink/orange/brown as you cook. 

When it starts making large bubbles that pop loudly and shoot burning hot quince all over the place,  and you can see the bottom of the pan when you pull a wooden spoon through it, you know you are done. 
5. Pour it into a cake pan that is greased and lined with waxed paper.  Heating the knife before you cut makes nice cuts.  I like to sprinkle chile powder on mine before serving.

Enjoy your delicious Membrillo!    Wide mouth jam jars would be a perfect way to package this for gifts, maybe with a chunk of Manchego and some crackers. 

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