The quince is an odd fruit. Part of the rose family, with a hard, fuzzy fruit that is easy to overlook if you don’t know what it is. It is often possible to forage the quince, as they do occur in the odd hedgerow, and a few lucky people grow them, or know someone else that does.
This is another of those things that I really hope to find out and about. The flowers are really beautiful, so they are often planted in municipal areas. I have heard rumour of one in a local park, although I have not found it myself. You also have to be pretty quick if you are to get there before the parakeets that live wild here.
However, I have found them on my local market. A basket full caught my eye, and I felt a rush of excitement, as I hurried closer to see whether or not I was in luck, or if they were just large conference pears. Luckily for me, my first glance was right, and I went home happily clutching a bag full of kweepeers, as they are called here.
I have cooked with them before, having baked them in a similar way to apples, but I have always wanted to try my hand at making membrillo. I first had some on a holiday to Barcelona, where it is served with sharp manchego cheese, and its sweetness and texture really are the perfect foil for this cheese. I have also used it with pâté on crackers, where it finds another worthy partnership.
I looked around for a good recipe, and Nigel Slater had a good one on the BBC site. When I read this, my first thought was that I could maximise the quince output by making jelly too. This appeals to the tight-fisted food waste geek in me – I really hate throwing stuff away, so any recipe where I can save scraps or cooking liquor to make something else out of is off to a good start already!
The quince might be an odd-looking fruit, but its perfume is quite something. As I peeled and cored them, as per the instructions, my kitchen was filled with a gorgeous smell, very similar to ripe raspberries. As they cook, you get hints of their rosaceous origins as well.
One thing that cooked quince is famed for is its beautiful deep red colour, so imagine the panic I had when I cooked the fruit when they were still a pale off white colour, and the cooking liquor was pretty beige.
A while ago, I had promised a friend a session in nostalgia and jam making, so she headed round after work, and we got down to make the jelly. The first lot I made was with the cooking liquor that was drained from the fruit. Since the membrillo recipe says to peel and core the quinces, and this contains a good deal of pectin, this is also perfect for jelly. I boiled these up in some more water, and re-used the vanilla pod in it too. The strained liquor made yet more jelly.
Making jelly is really a question of proportion. For every 600 ml of liquid, you need 400 g of sugar. You can play around with this proportion a little, and I have reduced the amount of sugar for some fruits. However, the quince is a relatively unknown quantity for me, so I stuck with the tried and tested ratio.
We boiled it up to a nice rolling boil, and let it cook off for 10 minutes. These days I have taken the guess-work out of jam making by investing in a sugar thermometer. When the thermometer reaches 104.5°C, you know that you are done. I still like to check, since the first time I used a thermometer, the jelly I was making turned out a bit runny, because I had taken it off the heat the second it reached temperature. Also, it was good to show my friend the low tech way of seeing if your jam has reached setting point.
The Fridge Test is the old-fashioned way to ensure the setting point is reached. You put a plate in the fridge to cool. Drop a little jam on the plate and leave for a minute. If the jam wrinkles when you run your finger through it, then it has reached setting point. If it doesn’t wrinkle, stick the plate back in the fridge, leave the jam to cook, and try again in a few minutes.
When you have reached the setting point, take the jam off the heat and pour into hot, sterilised jars. Fill them almost to the top, cover with waxed paper discs (wax side down) and seal with a hot, sterilised airtight lid.
As you can see from the picture, my worry that the final product would be beige was unfounded. They don’t tell you this in the recipes, but the quince does not take on its customary red until quite near the end of the cooking process.
Today I made the membrillo, as per the recipe. This too takes its time to reach the right colour, but when it does, it is a really thick paste, and has a grainy texture. I poured it into a roasting tin, but you could also use a swiss roll tin if you like it thinner.
I baked it in a low oven, but I should note that it still wasn’t entirely set, so I put it back in on low for a while.
I cut this into two. The one half I have wrapped in greaseproof paper, and foil, and I will keep it somewhere cool and dark until it is required. The other half, I shall cut into squares, sprinkle in caster sugar and serve as a sweet at my upcoming party.