Dulce de membrillo or Carne de membrillo in Spanish, marmelada in Portuguese, codonyat in Catalan, cotognata in Italian. Anyway you like, membrillo is tart/sweet and made from quince. My favourite method is to add rose scented geranium leaves which add a beautiful soft rose aroma. When you cook quinces they turn from apple green to deep crimson in about 2.5 hours. The membrillo is traditionally eaten with Manchego cheese. It can also be eaten as marmalade – which is a favourite in this house. Or you can make quince jelly, or quince cheese. I’ll tell you how to make them. All start with the same ingredients.
You can also roast quince alongside a joint of lamb – or poach them in a syrup containing rose scented geranium leaves, or a vanilla pod. You can add them to poached apples or pears too. Serve them simply, with fresh cream or icecream and a crunchy tuille biscuit. You won’t be disappointed. Heaven!
I bitterly regret not planting a couple of quince trees when we moved here. Knowing we are likely to move in a couple of years is now putting me off planting them – but maybe, just maybe I will next year.
However. Back to the membrillo. This year I was searching, searching for quince and finally found some last week at the farm shop, very late in the season.
First prepare your quinces. Peel them first. This is easiest with a vegetable peeler. Stand them on end and slice off thick quarters, just clean of the core. Quince do not ripen, they are always very hard – so use a sharp knife and a good strong board. Shave off the fruit that remains on the core and add to the quarters. Don’t waste a bit. Chop each quarter in half and place in a pan containing water and the juice of half a lemon (simply to stop them turning brown). Continue preparing the quince in this way until they are all done. You will notice I haven’t given you any proportions or weights at this stage. That’s because you need to put the fruit into a clean preserving pan and cover with water, bring to the boil and cook for about half an hour until they are soft. Then strain the water off. This is the stage at which you weigh the fruit. Put the fruit back into the preserving pan and add an equal amount of preserving sugar. The amount of cooked pulp I was left with today was 1.4kg. So I added 1.4kg of preserving sugar and then 8 rose scented geranium leaves. (you can leave these out if you prefer)
Bring it slowly to the boil, stirring occasionally, then cook for up to 2 hours on a gentle boil. During this time, the fruit and its syrup will turn ruby red and the aroma will fill the house with a subtle rose scent. After two hours the pulp will be thick and syrupy and at this stage – if you want to use it as marmalade – you simply decant into hot jars and seal. If you want to make dulce de membrillo that you can slice and eat with cheese, then cook it for a further 15 minutes until even more syrupy. Remove from the heat for 15 minutes, then remove the geranium leaves and put the pulp into the food processor and whizz until it is thick and has no lumps.
Turn the oven on to 120C. Lightly oil a heavy dish or metal pan and then line it with baking parchment and scatter more geranium leaves in the bottom. Pour the pulp into the dish and cook, uncovered, for one hour. Take out of the oven, leave it in a cool place overnight to set completely. Then slice into portions (I got 12 portions from 1.4kg fruit). Lift each portion onto a piece of baking parchment and fold the paper over, securing with brown string. This makes a great Christmas present with a chunk of Manchego cheese or a bottle of Port!
However, if you prefer a quince jelly, pour the mixture into a jelly muslin and strain it for 24 hours till all the juice has run through. You might be tempted to push more through, but the more you do that, the cloudier the jelly. Return the juice to a pan with the juice of half a lemon. Bring to the boil again and rest for 15 minutes. Then pour the jelly into jars. Don’t waste the pulp. You can either make some membrillo or jar it up for more marmelade.
If you want to make quince cheese, then for every 400g cooked pulp you will need 65g lemon juice, 125g unrefined caster sugar, 4 whole eggs, 75g unsalted butter, cold cut in to small pieces. Put the pulp into a double boiler and heat it slowly. Then mix the lemon juice, sugar and eggs in a separate bowl. Slowly add the mixture to the pulp, heating it gently and stirring it till it thickens. Don’t be tempted to cook it too quickly or the eggs will cook and you will end up with quincy scrambled eggs! When it is thick, drop in the cubes of butter, stirring all the time. Let the curd cool completely and then pour into hot jars, and seal.
If you have never used quince before then I hope this has encouraged you. Look out for them next year!