Membrillo: Quince Paste

What You'll Need

  • jam pan or heavy bottomed pot
  • food mill
  • stainless steel spoon
  • good kitchen knife and cutting surface
  • mortar and pestle
  • cookie sheet
  • parchment paper or silicone baking liner
  • wax paper bags or air tight containers to store
  • 2 pounds quinces (about 3) quartered but not seeded or peeled
  • 1 cup non-clorinated water
  • 2 cups organic sugar
  • Optional: seeds from 7 cardamom pods (less than 1/4 teaspoon), crushed with mortar and pestle

“This preserve is the original English marmalade:,” write Linda Zeidrich, “a jam so thick that you cut it with a knife to serve it.” Also known as Quince Paste or Quince Cheese, membrillo has undergone a fascinating evolution of both name and substance over the years. In her book The Joy of Jams, Jellies and Other Sweet Preserves, Zeidrich traces the language used to describe membrillo back to 15th century Portugal, where quince was called marmelo and quince paste was marmelada. When the English took up the manufacture of quince paste, they initially called it marmalet, but this term came to encompass what we call marmalade today, and eventually the term marmalade grew to exclude any preserve that was not made with citrus peel. It has undergone other transmutations, too; in France, it is called cotignac; in Spain it is dulce de membrillo, or carne de membrillo.

No matter its name, membrillo itself is as mutable as its name has proven to be. The color can very from pale gold to deep red, depending on the level of oxidation. Apples brown undaintily when oxidized, but quince blush the rosiest shade of red. Repeated heating and cooling deepen the redness, so do not hesitate to allow the paste to cool between steps.

This recipe comes to us from Zeidrich’s book, as so many of our favorites do.

Makes about 1 3/4 pounds of membrillo
NOTE: This recipe requires a long resting period (8-10 hours) if you prefer a deeper finished color


1) Clean and prepare your Quince

Rub the soft fuzz from the quinces with your hands.
remove fuzz from quince
Quarter the quince, but leave the seeds intact.
prepare quince

2) Cook the Quince

Place the quince in a jam pan or other heavy bottomed pot, and pour the water over them.

Cook over low heat, covered, until they are quite tender, about 20 or 30 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat, and let the quinces cool a bit. For a redder paste, let the kettle stand at room temperature for 8 to 12 hours.
cooked quince

3) Puree the Quince

Scoop out the seeds from each quince piece and discard the seeds.
remove seeds
Pass the quince through the medium screen of a food mill.
puree with food mill
Put the quince puree into the pan again, along with the sugar.

make quince paste

4) Cook the mixture

Heat the mixture over low heat, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved.
Add the crushed seeds from the cardamon pods.
Simmer the mixture, stirring often at first, and almost constantly at the end, for 40 minutes or more. When the paste is ready, it will have thickened enough that the whole pot will want to spin rather than allow the membrillo to be stirred. A spoon dragged through the mixture will leave a clear path across the bottom.cooked quince

5) Spread the mixture to cool

Lightly oil, or spread parchment paper over the bottom of a baking sheet with vertical sides.

Spoon the quince paste over the sheet, about 3/4 inch thick. Let it cool at room temperature, and then turn the membrillo out of the dish to finish drying at room temperature or in a dehydrator.

spread membrillo

6) Portion and store

When the paste is dry to the touch, cut it into smaller pieces, if you like, and store it wrapped in wax paper or in plastic bags in the refrigerator, where it should keep for several months. Make sure the paste is completely dry, and very well sealed, if you intend to keep it for the longer amount of time; it will absorb fridge flavors if left loosely wrapped.


Over to You...

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