If you still haven’t decided what to do with your crop of quinces this year (and God knows, we’ve agonised), then help is at hand! K and I are here to tell you how to convert your quinces into “membrillo”: a delicious paste, which can be enjoyed with cold meats and cheeses.
K says that you’ll need to set aside about an hour for the main work – but I think you’ll need a little longer than that, as we got all the way through Joe.My.God’s “morning music” playlist, and the first half of the Bugz In The Attic album.
You will need: quinces, caster sugar, cinnamon sticks (optional).
1. First, gather your quinces. You can safely discard the tiny knobbly runty yellow ones; they’re neither use nor ornament.
2. As quince-washing is too dreary a task for the likes of you or me to contemplate, why not get a well-meaning visitor or house-guest to “volunteer” for you? They’ll feel so much more useful, and you get to do something more interesting in the meantime! Do make sure they give them a good hearty scrub, though: the object of the exercise is to remove the downy furriness from the skins.
3. Chop your quinces coarsely, aiming for around eight chunks per normal-sized quince. You don’t need to peel them or core them, but it’s as well to remove their seeds as you chop. Don’t stress up about removing all the seeds, though – just prise out what you can easily manage.
They look gorgeous, don’t they? Go on, have a sniff. But no nibbling just yet, as your raw quince is to all intents and purposes inedible. That’s why we’re making membrillo!
4. Place your chopped quinces in a pan, cover them with boiling water, place the uncovered pan onto your Aga’s simmering plate, and leave the fruit simmering until it softens. In our case, this took around 15 minutes.
5. Drain the softened fruit, and pass it through your mouli. (For the mouli-deprived, a simple sieve will do the job – but expect to use plenty of elbow grease.) A nice smooth purée will emerge on the other side, looking a little bit like apple sauce.
6. Weigh the resultant purée, and add an equivalent weight of caster sugar. K always sets aside a jar of caster sugar mixed with vanilla sticks, in case of spontaneous initiatives like this – but between you and me, the vanilla doesn’t really add anything to the flavour.
7. Stir in the sugar, so that it dissolves into the purée. At this point, you may be permitted your first taste of the membrillo-in-the-making. Good, isn’t it? Yes, tangy. We thought that.
8. If you really want to – and having tasted it, we decided we didn’t – you may also add freshly squeezed lemon juice at this point. But come on, the quinces are bitter enough as they are, surely? Let our cuisine never be over-ornamented.
9. Return the sweetened purée to a clean saucepan. Add a cinnamon stick or two; for our 1.5 kg, we added 4 inches. However, this really isn’t mandatory; the cinnamon adds little of substance, although it’s nice to know it’s there. (A little foretaste of mulled wine, perhaps?)
10. Place the pan back on your simmering plate, and heat the mixture until it thickens and darkens. During the early gloppita-gloppita stages, not much stirring is required – but as the paste solidifies, you need to be stirring constantly in order to avoid sticking and burning. This took us 30 minutes, although the recipes suggested that it would be less.
11. During the final stages of thickening, move the pan over to the boiling plate for a little caramelisation.
12. Remove the cinnamon stick (or sticks) (optional). Turn the mixture out into a lightly buttered dish, and allow to cool and set for around two hours.
13. Your membrillo is now ready for dividing and storing. Cut it into thick slices, wrap them in clingfilm, and store them in an air-tight container. These will keep for anything up to a year.
14. You have just made one hell of a lot of membrillo – more than you could possibly get through in a year. So why not take some of the excess slices, wrap them in grease-proof paper, tie them up with raffia, place them in a basket, and distribute them amongst the needy? Charity begins at home!
The lip-smacking membrillo flavour is particularly well complemented by a mild Spanish cheese such as manchego fresco. It can also be spread on bread, like a jam. Alternatively, we recommend adding some membrillo to some pork chops, for a memorable supper-time treat. Or maybe you have some suggestions of your own? Go on, let your creativity run riot! The only limit is your imagination!