You know it’s fall when you see quince in the market. It’s the beautiful yellow/green fruit that looks like a pear, but is hard as a rock. If you bit into it, you might lose a tooth. Quince is one of those fruits that you find yourself attracted to because of its beautiful shape, color or floral scent, but rarely know what to do with. It is the only fruit of its kind in its genus, but resembles an apple or pear, as it has a core like theirs. I picked a basket full from my two bushes and found myself spending the better part of a weekend cooking them so that I could give gifts and store their bounty for the winter. It is a process worth the trouble when you see and taste the results.
Preparing quince for eating requires coring and peeling, baking, and then cooking it down into a jam or membrillo. Membrillo is a Spanish quince paste that is traditionally served with Manchego or Garoxta cheeses. It is similar to fruit ‘pate’ that you might find in France or a kind of drier or stiffer jelly that you can slice and spread.
In the baking process the fruit goes from pale yellow to caramel to a deep red when the paste is finished. You can set it up into jam, but this recipe from Ireland is my favorite preparation. Make it on a cool day when you don’t mind having the oven on, or on a weekend when you don’t have to be anywhere. It has a glorious smell, so you won’t mind as it bakes away…for hours.
9 x 12 baking dish
Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
With a cloth, rub down the quince fruit and take off all of the down on the skin. Place into a baking dish and cover with a lid or tin foil. Do not add any water. Cover and place in the low-temperature oven for four hours or until the fruit is easily pierced with a knife. Quarter and core the fruit, removing any blemishes. Put through a food mill (chinoise) using the biggest disk. (This would be a good time to buy one if you don’t have one)
Weigh the pulp and add pound (1 cups) of sugar to every pound of pulp. Cook in a preserving kettle over medium heat, stirring continuously with a wooden spatula until the mixture is rich in color and it stops running together again when the spatula is drawn through.
Line the loaf pan with parchment paper, fill with the paste and leave overnight to get quite cold.
The following day, dry out the pan of paste in the oven at 200 degrees for about 4 hours or until quite firm. Check to see if the paste is ready by lifting a corner. It should be solid all the way through. When the paste has cooled, cut into four strips, wrap in parchment and store in an airtight container. It will keep for about four months, but is best eaten when freshly made, cut into one-inch squares.
Recipe from Ballmaloe Seasons by Darina Allen.
Tricia O’Brien writes the Vegetable of the Month column for the Oak Hill Farm newsletter and lives in Glen Ellen. You can visit and follow her blog at www.cafetrix.blogspot.com.