BY AMY PENNINGTON
Several years ago, I received an email from a friend, who had a friend who was giving away 40 pounds of quince. I didn’t even know what quince was back then, but I figured I could preserve it easily enough. I sent an email to this woman I’d never met. Within hours, I found myself driving to Ballard. I rang her bell, she invited me in, we had some tea and I walked away with over ten pounds of quince. Better still, I made a new friend.
Every year since, Elaine has emailed me to let me know when her father’s quince tree ripens. I drive to her place, chat about food (last year’s topic du jour—kimchi), and walk away heady with a huge bag of fragrant yellow fruit. Quince is beautiful when poached, roasted or baked but it absolutely shines as a thin syrup or thick paste, and the pulp that cooks into membrillo is a natural byproduct of making the syrup. While the recipes take some time, starting with a large quantity (in this case five pounds) will keep your pantry stocked in quince.
Makes about 2 pints | start to finish: 3 hours
The flavor of this syrup offers a hint of the floral fragrance that makes quince so appealing. This syrup can be made as thin or as thick as you like. Thinner syrup will take less time, and is best for adding to cocktails or soaking a sponge cake or other dessert. You can also choose not to reduce the liquid at all, and drink it as a refreshing beverage on its own.
10 cups water
Juice from one lemon
5 pounds quince, thoroughly scrubbed clean of hair, stems and blossom ends removed
Fill a large pot with both water and lemon juice. Quarter quinces and immediately place into water. When all the quince is cut and added, the water should just cover the fruit. If needed, add more water to cover. Place the pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the fruit is cooked all the way through and can be easily pierced with a knife, but is not yet falling apart, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Strain fruit from cooking liquid, and set the fruit pulp aside. Using a fine mesh strainer (or cheesecloth-lined colander) filter the cooking liquid to strain out any remaining fruit fibers.
Place the strained cooking liquid in a clean pot and set over medium-high heat. Reduce the syrup by about half or until desired consistency is reached. For a medium-body syrup, this will take about 45 minutes to an hour.
Prepare pint jars for canning. Add quince syrup to the jars. Using a damp clean towel, wipe the rims of the jars and place the lids and rings on the jars. Process in a water bath for 10 minutes. Remove the jars with tongs and let them cool on the counter. When the syrup is cool, check for proper seals and label with date and contents. Store in a cool, dark cupboard until ready to use, for up to a year. Once opened, store in the fridge.
washed jars • water bath
Makes 4 thin loaves | start to finish: 12 hours
Quince paste is also known as membrillo, and it’s commonly cut into squares and served alongside cheese. The paste is made from the fruit pulp reserved from making the syrup, requiring only some additional sugar. Note that you will need to commit some time to this project. Cooking the fruit down to a paste can take well over an hour and then it must be dried in an oven. Be patient and know that the effort will be handsomely rewarded.
Reserved pulp from 5 pounds cooked quince, about 8 cups
4 to 5 cups sugar
Place the cooked quince pulp in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Push the puree through a fine mesh strainer. Measure the puree and pour it into a large, heavy pot. For every cup of puree, stir in 1/2 cup of sugar. Set over medium low heat and cook, stirring regularly, until quite thick and paste-like, between 1 and 2 hours. It may stick to the pot as it thickens, so adjust the heat lower as needed. The paste is done when a small spoonful is placed on a plate and no liquid separates out.
While the pulp is cooking, prepare a pan for drying out the paste. You may use a shallow high-walled cookie sheet (such as a half sheet pan or jelly roll pan) or a smaller, deeper glass baking dish (about 11″ x 7″) depending on how thick you would like your sliced paste to be. Just make sure you dish is no deeper than two inches; otherwise the paste will not dry sufficiently in the center. Rub the entire surface with a thin layer of vegetable oil and line with a layer of lightly-oiled parchment paper. Set aside.
Turn oven to 140 degrees or the lowest setting it will allow. Pour the quince paste into your prepared baking pan and bake for 3 hours. Turn off the oven, and leave the paste inside overnight. In the morning, cut a small piece of quince paste to see if it is dried throughout. If still loose and jam-like in the middle, you may need to continue drying in the oven for a few hours more. When the paste is dried through, turn it out from the pan, remove the parchment paper and cut into four to six small loaves for easy storage. Wrap each paste loaf in fresh parchment paper before storing in the fridge, where it will keep for several months.
store in fridge