11.28.11 The Original Apple

Quince paste cube 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife
When I was growing up, every 7 years my family lived in Spain. My father was a professor of Spanish literature, and he spent his sabbaticals doing research, writing and collecting the Sephardic ballads that were his specialty. The year I turned 15 there, my sisters (5 and 7 years older than I) were already out of the house, so I was  essentially an only child. I went everywhere with my parents, which meant a very diverse cultural life (opera, theater, dance, symphony, museums, galleries), lots of meals out and visits to some very fancy Madrid residences. Perhaps because we were in Europe—or maybe it had something to do with the almost exclusively adult company—the rules relaxed a bit and I was often allowed a glass of sherry, cointreau or vino tinto. This set the stage for expanding my appetite, too, and I tried many unknown delicacies: octopus, white asparagus, kidneys, membrillo. The latter was a deep-amber-colored jelly that was often brought out with the cheese course (another novelty), a sticky, sweet confection to pair with the rich oily Manchego. At the time, I had never seen a quince, and it's a bit of a leap anyway from that fuzzy, essentially inedible fruit to this jammy nectar of the gods.
Quince fuzz 790 xxx
here come da fuzz
The quince is definitely not a convenience food and is thus rarely found in supermarkets. It's slightly mysterious, covered in a pale grey fuzz and smelling of spring flowers and exotic locales. Uncooked, it is hard, dry and mouth-puckeringly astringent. But once cooked, it softens and the flavor is unlike anything else: complex, floral, almost tropical. Quinces ripen in September and October, and can often be found at farmers markets through December. Look for bright golden yellow fruit with few traces of green and no soft spots.
Quince halves 790 xxx
inside job
The flesh of the quince oxidizes, turning brown quickly, but the heat coaxes from it a spectrum of colors ranging from pale rose to sunset orange. The final color depends on the varietal, on the ripeness and on how long you cook it. For paste, jams or jellies, it's best to leave the peels and even the cores as they add both flavor and pectin.
Quince top 790 xxx
shapely bottom
Although the book of Genesis does not name the specific type of fruit with which Eve tempted Adam, some ancient texts suggest it might have been a quince. Quinces pair well with apples, and are delicious simply poached in vanilla syrup.
Food mill 790 xxx
run of the mill
After cooking the quinces down to a tender mush, you can put everything through a food mill like this, or even puree it in a food processor. The nice thing about a food mill is that it forces the puree through a fine screen and removes any seeds or peel at the same time.
Quince puree 790 xxx
looks like applesauce, tastes like heaven
The puree is returned to the pot with some sugar and lemon juice and cooks and cooks and cooks until it's reduced to a thick russet-colored paste that is easily mounded up. Someone recently told me they made theirs with lime juice and cardamom, which made my mouth water. The recipe I used in Alice Waters' invaluable Chez Panisse Fruit gave a cooking time of 45 minutes, but mine needed more than twice that before it would set up properly. This is one place where you simply have to use your own judgment, but I think it would be really hard to overcook it.
Quince paste slab 790 xxx
a glistening slab of goodness
Quince paste sheet 790 xxx
spread the paste in a parchment-lined pan to dry
The drying process was a bit disconcerting. My paste certainly firmed up right away, and after drying it overnight, I sliced it into jewel-like cubes.
Quince paste cutting 790 xxx
making the cut
The trouble is, it was quite sticky. Weeping, in fact; meaning it was exuding a clear syrup. I rolled it in granulated sugar, which is how they serve the pâtes de fruit (fruit pastes) at Épicerie Boulud (go just for a piece of the passionfruit one), but the next day they had absorbed all the sugar and gone back to weeping. Hmmm... I left them out another day or so, then wiped them down with a paper towel and stacked them in a tupperware to keep in the fridge.
Sugared 790 xxx
sugar babies
They are absolutely delicious simply eaten on their own, or paired with a ricotta salata or sharp pecorino.
Lamb shanks 790 xxx
shanks a lot
In Morocco and the Middle East, quinces are often cooked with meat. Chez Panisse Fruit also includes a recipe for quinces with lamb, which is another wonderful pairing. This is a very easy dish to make and the North African spices go nicely with basmati rice or couscous.
Lamb wquinces 790 xxx
quite a dish
The Chez Panisse recipe calls for cubed lamb shoulder but I used shanks and it came out perfectly. If you can get your hands on some quinces, I recommend you use them in both sweet and savory preparations so you can truly appreciate their range of flavors. And maybe keep a few in a bowl to perfume your livingroom over the holidays.

Quince Paste (aka Membrillo)

from Chez Panisse Fruit
makes about 80 1" square pieces
  • — 2 cups sugar, plus more for coating the pieces
  • — 3 cups water
  • — 3 pounds quinces, peeled, cored & diced
  • juice of 1 lemon

Wash the quinces and wipe off any clinging fuzz. Cut them in quarters, remove the woody core and cut the quarters into roughly 1-inch pieces.

Put the quinces in a 4-quart pot, add the water and bring to a boil, cover, and steam over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the fruit is soft, about 20 minutes. When the fruit is completely tender and has started to break down, pass the mixture through a food mill or sieve.

Return the puree to the pot, add the sugar and cook over low heat, stirring constantly for about 45 minutes (or much longer). The mixture will cook into a paste, bubbling thickly; when it’s done, it should be thick enough to mound up, but still pourable. If the mixture starts to burn in the pan before it has completely thickened, turn off the heat and let it rest for a few minutes; the part sticking to the bottom will release when you start stirring again. When the mixture reaches the right consistency, stir in the lemon juice and remove from the heat.

Line a shallow pan measuring at least 8x10 with parchment paper. Lightly oil the paper with vegetable oil or almond oil. Pour the paste onto the paper-lined pan, spreading it into an 8x10” rectangle, about ¼” thick. When it has cooled completely, invert the sheet of paste onto another sheet of parchment. Carefully peel off the upper, oiled sheet.

Let the paste dry uncovered overnight. If it is not firm enough to cut at this point, try drying it out for an hour or so in a low oven (around 150º). Once the paste is cool and firm, cut into 1” squares and toss them in sugar. Store uncovered in a dry place. When the paste is dry to the touch, it can be stored in an airtight container for as long as a year. The paste can also be kept whole, wrapped in parchment.

FYI, I am storing mine in the fridge. Someone told me you can also layer bay leaves between the pieces.

Download recipe  Download Recipe

Lamb Tagine with Quinces

from Chez Panisse Fruit
serves 4
  • — 2 pounds quinces
  • — 2 tablespoons honey
  • — 1/2 teaspoon saffron, crushed
  • — 1 cinnamon stick
  • — 1 heaping teaspoon grated fresh ginger, or 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • — 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • — 2 onions, peeled and grated
  • olive oil
  • salt & pepper
  • — 3 pounds boned lamb shoulder, cut into 2" cubes
  • juice of 1/2 lemon

Trim off and discard excess surface fat from the lamb. Season the meat with salt and pepper. Cover the bottom of a heavy stew pot with oil, heat, add the meat, and brown lightly on all sides over medium-high heat. Do this in batches, if necessary, to avoid crowding. When the meat is browned, reduce the heat and pour off the oil. Add the onions, butter, cinnamon stick, ginger, saffron, and 1 teaspoon salt and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring and scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Pour in enough water to just cover the meat and cook, covered, at a gentle simmer until the meat is tender, about 1½ hours.

While the lamb is cooking, wash the quinces, rub off any clinging fuzz, cut each quince into 8 wedges, and core them. Do not peel: the peel contributes texture and flavour to the stew. Place the wedges in lightly acidulated water to prevent them from browning. When the lamb is tender, taste the stew for saltiness and adjust as needed. Add the quinces, honey, and lemon juice and simmer for another 15-30 minutes, until the quince wedges are tender but not falling apart.

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Gorgeous! I've been wanting to try this. For some reason, the quinces we get at the market here already have the fuzz wipe off. I was thinking about making jelly which calls for a less ripe quince which has more pectin. And apparently, you can also make the paste with the left over pulp from jelly making. Last but not least, the juice from poaching these golden morsels makes the most incredible cocktail mixer. I hadn't even tasted quince before this week end!
Rob on November 29, 2011 at 3:01 am —
Yes, if you poach in a vanilla-scented syrup, that liquid is just divine--in cocktails, over ice cream, etc. Isn't it fun to discover new tastes? I recently heard about a fruit called a medlar, which I am determined to find next year.
laura on November 29, 2011 at 8:48 am —
I have multiple comments on multiple posts, but they all have to go here b/c I am lazy that way...first off, do you know Alana of eatingfromthegroundup.com? You two share the quince fixation, and you are both very persuasive. When I go back to eating sugar (which may not be for a while, after a Thanksgiving orgy of pie and macarons and truffles and...) I may finally try my hand at membrillo, which I love...though by then, quinces may be harder to find. And on the subject of recovery, my post-gluttony solution is a favorite Thai-influenced cabbage salad; recipe at http://www.onearth.org/blog/craving-cabbage. And...I hope your back is better. I've been there, too frequently. My preferred therapeutic posture is on the floor on my belly, then slowly raising up on my forearms, like a low cobra pose. This method is from "7 Steps to a Pain Free Life" by McKenzie; it was suggested to me by a masseuse a few years ago during a particularly bad episode and has helped a lot. Hopefully, you won't need it. Thanks for the loveliness that is your site!
Paige Orloff on November 29, 2011 at 10:26 am —
Yes, Alana and I have bonded over our love of quince! She counseled me on my membrillo-making. Great to have you here, Paige, and thanks for the slaw recipe—looks delicious!
laura on November 29, 2011 at 12:20 pm —
These are both favorite recipes around here...in spite of the ever-weeping membrillo. I look forward to the fragrance of quince every fall, and each of my daughters has a quince perfuming her room right now. Lovely pictures and travel memories!
Claiborne on November 29, 2011 at 5:07 pm —