If curiosity killed the cat, and if that, by chance, translates to the kitchen, to the process of cooking, I may be toast.
Making everything from scratch - everything- is not just about my paranoia with processed foods, which I totally own up to; it is about my love for the process, each and every part of it. I want to know how it gets to be what it is- the butter, the pasta, the stocks and sauces, and preserves. This time, it was membrillo. Never tried to make it before and cannot claim to be a huge fan, but I appreciate it. And I wanted to know how to make it- how to turn quince into membrillo.
Processing quince is an interesting little experiment of its own. Quince was common when I grew up. Gutuia, its Romanian name, showed up in the fall, coated with white soft hairs, a sort of fuzz that rubs off easily exposing the rock hard, bright-lemon-colored coat, waxy and fragrant. If we had a few of them, the scent would fill up the kitchen. And we always made the mistake of biting in, because the flavor was irresistible; the taste and texture- not irresistible.
Quince is really the pear's sort-of-Neanderthalic cousin. It is related to both apples and pears, but most reminiscent of the latter. You see, those little stoney cells that make the texture of the pear more coarse, grittier, those are what defines the texture of quince- just more exaggerated. When cut, it oxidizes quickly; it browns the way a pear would. The taste of quince is sour- pucker-your-mouth-pungent sour, so it's not exactly the sort of thing you may want to take a bite out of. But smell it- it's intoxicating- a good ripe quince smells intoxicating. Save it for preserves or membrillo.
Membrillo, a recipe from the Moro cookbook
Ingredients: 4 quinces, up to 2 lbs sugar.
Cut up the pretty yellow quinces, such a weird fruit, into chunks. Cover with cold water in a heavy bottomed pot and bring to a boil. Cook until the fruit is very soft.
Strain off all water but keep a cup. Place the soft pieces of quince in a blender. You might need to do this in batches. Blend until very smooth. If you need to add a little water to allow it to become really smooth without burning your blender.
Even smooth, the quince will have those little stoney cells that give it the gritty texture. Those are not exactly ideal in membrillo. To get them out, pass through a sieve or a food mill. Weigh the puree and measure out an equal quantity of sugar.
Return the quince along with the sugar to the heavy-bottomed pan and start cooking it on low heat stirring often. The sugar will melt and it will start to bubble and will attempt to stick to the sides and bottom of the pan. Stir and turn the heat on lower if that happens. And watch your stirring hand- one of those bubbles is enough for a blister.
Allow it to cook slow, to reduce, to brown gently and reduce, and thicken. This will take probably a couple of hours. When it is really really brown and thick, it's ready. If it's too sweet, add a little lemon.
Pour it in a flat bottomed pan, preferably rectangular, lined with parchment paper and allow it to cool completely.
After it cools, cut it up into whatever shape or size you want. I served it with Manchengo cheese and a little toast. You can choose to just eat a slice. It's that good.
Photography by Jennifer Olson.