It’s magical here in the middle of Portland, Oregon. I am amazingly fortunate to live in the city while at the same time have a beautiful backyard to escape to. Every year I look forward to the ripening of the two quince trees that grow in my backyard. I, like others who are fortunate to possess this fruit tree, admire its flowers, pray for healthy fruit and feel guilty if we don’t harvest every last aromatic quince. Only a few make it to full ripening without blemish. Those I use for brandied quince. The rest are perfect for peeling and carving for quince paste; also known as membrillo.
This year I made three batches of quince paste, each prepared differently. All turned out with the unique flavor of quince. No recipe is fool proof, like anything it takes some practice. The first secret is being patient. The second secret is about the heat. The hotter the cooking process, the darker the jelly. If you want the rosy color keep the heat on the low side.
• Quince fruit, about a dozen or as many as you have
• Water, with a little lemon juice to immerse peeled fruit into
• Vanilla pod, one pod for 12 quinces (I used real extract instead for two batches)
• Lemon peel, 2 yellow strips 2 inches long each (optional)
• Cinnamon stick (optional)
• 3 Tbsp lemon juice
• Sugar equal to amount of puree fruit
Peel, core and cut quince into pieces. Immerse in lemon water to prevent browning; covering also with parchment or an opaque lid will help too. After all quinces are pared and immersed, pour off lemon water and replace with fresh water to cover. Add vanilla and lemon peel, cinnamon and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook fruit until soft. About ½ hour.
Drain quince, remove vanilla pod and cinnamon stick. Puree using any method. Once pureed, pour into a measuring cup or bowl. Take note of the measurement and return fruit to pot with an equal amount of sugar.
Cook on low to medium until sugar is dissolved. Add lemon juice, adjusted proportionately for the amount of fruit. Continue cooking until it is very thick, for at 1 to 1-1/2 hours. It should leave a deep track in the bottom of the pan when you drawn your spoon across as if you were making risotto. Watch your color.
Here is where your color comes into focus. The hotter you cook it, the darker it gets. It will start out yellow, then golden, to orange, then to deeper rosy pink. After that it can turn very dark to almost black. I enjoy the flavor with any color. But most people like the pinkish the best. Mine is colorful but on the dark side this year. If yours is lighter, try turning up the heat slightly, then back down again.
After cooking I finish it off inside a low heat oven 120-125˚ by pouring into buttered parchment lined baking dish. Not too thick I suggest. Spread nice and flat across the top. Let it set and dry in the oven for an hour or so. Store in the refrigerator like any jam or jelly. I cut it up and store in the freezer wrapped in serving sizes.
I experimented with other methods; one time I baked large chunks of quince with peel on in the oven. I forgot to check if it needed a little water and it burned a little. I saved it by carving out all the pulp that was still soft not blackened and went forward from there. It turned out slightly smoky in flavor and rusty dark orange/pink. It is interesting and still good. I like the peel on if its unblemished.
Another time I let it cook in the crock pot. It still has good flavor but very dark color. I think it could have used lower heat. At least I didn’t have to watch it too much.
Serve with breads or crackers. Add a piece to your cheese board for any special occasion. This year I’m cutting my frozen membrillo with cookie cutters and packaging each for gifts. I placed a personalized label on each small gift box and tied them with jute string.
Notes: Pack any pieces leftover from cutting into small jars and store.