Quince is a pectin-rich fruit that figures in history as the original golden apples of mythology. It looks like an apple but exudes a heady perfume and is so firm it often needs cooking to be edible. In membrillo the fruit is mixed with sugar and cooked down to a thick paste that can be sliced.
I first encountered this food in my marmalade research. It has been made in Spain since the Middle Ages and is traditionally eaten with manchego, a dry sheep's milk cheese from La Mancha. When the Moors brought the sour orange to Spain from North Africa it was discovered that this fruit was also high in pectin, and a similar paste was made from it that evolved into the citrus marmalades we know today.
Quince came into my life quite by accident. I became friends with the owners of an auto repair shop that serviced my truck, Farmer's Market customers on the weekends they weren't at their country place in Humboldt County. It turned out that on their 20 acres west of Garberville they had planted a certified organic quince and apple orchard, and were about to bring in their first crop.
It was Christmas Eve when I got a call from Mike that they were on their way. A few hours later he showed up with 500 pounds of end-of season quince. I spent the next 2 weeks in a frantic race against time to process it all, but the ripe fruit was superb, with waxy deeply colored yellow skin and a heavenly scent.
Making membrillo is an arduous task. It takes me up to 17 hours to produce one 20-pound batch, from preparing the fruit to constantly stirring the volcanic mass as I boil it, bound up in mask, gloves and gauntlets, to hours more of baking. Reduce, reduce. But my result, after a few trials, was far superior even to Iberian imports, and has found great success in the fine cheese shops that now carry it.
Enjoy my membrillo traditionally atop manchego cheese, or any firm salty cheese. Add a bit to meat sauces to thicken and add a fruity note. A regular Farmer's Market customer claims that adding this to her chili won her a chili cook-off contest!
Ingredients: quince, sugar, yuzu lemon, Texas lemon
Available in 1-pound (shown left) and quarter-pound (shown right) quantities.