I went to a fancy grocery store this week in search of liquid pectin and kumquats thinking, They have everything, right? I struck out, but I certainly had fun. This kind of shopping is my own personal kid-in-a-candy-store experience: every kind of European butter, clotted cream, an olive bar the size of a swimming pool, gleaming produce of seemingly endless variety all arranged artfully as if no one has ever touched the displays, a whole section of foods from Britain…(Hello, digestive biscuits, my old friend!) It’s also something akin to walking into a Miro painting for me. Tony, well-heeled shoppers place seven dollar half gallons of milk into their carts alongside pristine strawberries in the dead of winter. I could spend hours just walking the aisles, and I did bimble through them rather googly-eyed until I saw quinces. I haven’t seen one since I lived in England eighteen years ago. The good people at my usual market seem all too prepared to get giddy with me over things like this. At the fancy schmancy grocery, however, the produce man standing near me when I found them told me he had never seen anyone so excited about fruit. I wasn’t even bouncing up and down!
Quinces are bright green yellow, a pome fruit related to both the pear and the apple. They are too astringent and hard to eat uncooked, but they transform with sugar and heat into something quite bewitching—from chartreuse to ochre to apricot—and their perfume is incomparable. When I saw them I knew exactly what I was going to do with them. I have a beautiful wedge of Shepherd’s Way Farms’ Big Woods Blue cheese in my refrigerator, and with quince paste and a little raw honey, I suspect it will be quite a delicious grilled cheese sandwich.
Quince paste, called dulce de membrillo in Spain, is a sweetmeat. Firmer than a fruit butter, it is sliceable and frequently accompanies manchego or goat cheeses. I like to eat with a broader range of assertive cheeses like the Big Woods Blue, with crumpets or toast, or cubed into a fool. (More on those later!) You’ll find lots of things to tuck or smear quince paste into, elevating otherwise yummy things to even yummier.
Quince Paste Tips
Put the quinces on your kitchen counter for a day or two before you make the paste. Your whole house will smell lovely. I think it’s a shame not to enjoy them this way before using them.
The process of pureeing the quinces takes quite a while in a food processor, so be patient. You want a totally smooth paste without distinct pieces of skin.
Use a stockpot or the pan with the highest sides you have. When you cook down the quince pulp and sugar, it sputters and hisses and throws off spatters of molten sugar. Ouch! Use the longest wooden spoon you have, and put a glove-style hot pad on your hand.
The timing for this recipe will vary a bit, so settle in with a task or a good book and check on the process now and then. For example, if you have quite a deep sheet of quince paste in your pan, it will take longer to dry in the oven. Just be patient and pop in on it now and then during the last hour. Lift a corner of the parchment to check its firmness.
You can spread this recipe over three days. Bake the quinces the first night. Cook down the puree the second. And bake the paste the third. It’s a long-ish process, but not one that you have to attend to actively.
a little neutral oil for the baking dish, such as canola
2 c. of sugar per pound of cooked quince pulp, or about 5 ½ c.
½ c. Celtic Crossing liqueur or water
a dab of butter for the sheet pan
- Preheat your oven to 225 degrees.
- Wash and dry the quinces and place them in a glass or earthenware dish that you have lightly oiled with a neutral flavored oil. I used canola oil.
- Place a lid on the dish or cover it tightly with aluminum foil.
- Bake the quinces until they are tender when pierced with a fork, about three to four hours.
- When they are cool enough to handle, quarter and core the quinces, and puree them in a food processor or food mill along with the liqueur or water.
- Weigh the pulp and add 2 c. of sugar per pound of quince pulp, or about 5 ½ c., and stir it together.
- Cook the mixture in a stockpot or tall pan over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the quince paste parts like the red sea when you run a wooden spoon down the middle. This takes about one hour.
- Smear a half sheet pan or jelly roll pan with a bit of butter and line it with parchment paper.
- Spread the quince paste into the pan and chill it in the refrigerator until it is cold.
- Preheat your oven to 225 degrees.
- Bake the paste until it is firm, about three to four hours.
- Allow the paste to cool to room temperature. Then wrap it in cellophane or waxed paper and store it in the refrigerator. It will keep for a few months.
Recipe for Grilled Shepherd’s Way Farms’ Big Woods Blue Cheese Sandwich with Quince Paste and Raw Honey here.