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while the gettin’ is good

Recipe: membrillo (quince paste)

It’s so good to be home after a week of driving around Southwest Colorado and shooting fall colors alone. I don’t mind being alone, but it gets mentally exhausting because I’m all up in my head with myself from before sunrise to well after sundown assessing weather, light, topography, and of course the aspens. After a couple of days traveling backroads I noticed a lot of drivers in their trucks with their dogs. Colorado is a dog-lovin’ state, to be sure. It made me miss Kaweah and it almost made me wish that she were along for my trip. I say almost because Kaweah is a very annoying (read: bad) car companion. She associates car rides with hikes. She loves hikes. She gets so excited she just cries the whole time. Sometimes for several hours on end. Kaweah becomes a giant stress ball so we try to avoid subjecting her to that. I guess in some ways we are trying to avoid subjecting ourselves to it too. There’s something to be said for shooting the fall colors in peace.

in crested butte

off ohio pass road

anthracite range

[See the whole set from Crested Butte on my photo blog.]

When reports posted winter weather advisories for the mountains, I debated if it might be wise for me to wrap up the shoot in Crested Butte and hightail it back home before the storm arrived. Instead, I took that window and drove south to the San Juans and I’m glad I did. Places with big sky, big mountains, big weather, big swaths of pine and aspen – they take my breath away. There were times when the visibility went to pea soup, but the weather is so dynamic that you could count on it changing from hour to hour if not minute to minute.

the scrub was also in full color

from the dallas divide


sunset on the sneffels range

rising clouds from fresh snowfall

[You can view the rest of the set here.]

We had five inches of snow on our deck Saturday. A-basin and Loveland have begun their race to make snow with a jump start from the cold snap. And Wolf Creek opened this weekend with 44 inches of snow from the storm! But it’s not winter. The snow has melted (mostly) from our deck and the days ahead will be sunny and warm. That’s autumn for ya. I’m happy to get as much of it as I can including in the edible form. Our local Whole Foods is carrying quince now, and despite the fact that it costs an arm and a leg to buy it here in Colorado, I couldn’t resist. I know of people from various parts of the U.S. who have had quince trees… and never once knew what to do with the fruits. Seriously? That makes for sad pandas everywhere.

related to the apple and pear, but you can’t eat quince raw

cut, cored, cubed

I first tasted quince paste – membrillo – in Argentina over a decade ago. Becky and I were in the field on a GPS campaign and dropped by to visit with a farming family she knew from the previous field season. They were warm and friendly, inviting us in to join them for snacks and a game of World Cup Soccer: Argentina vs. England. Slices of a mild, soft cheese were paired with slices of the deep rose-colored quince paste. Floral, fruity, and sweet bouncing off the creamy, salty cheese. Because I didn’t know a lick of Spanish, I learned to speak the way Argentinians speak. I didn’t say mem-BREE-yo, I said mem-BREE-zho. Lots of je je je sounds. It’s so beautiful. By the way, Argentina won that game which made for a country full of happy people.

slice lemon rind

simmer in a pot with lemon peel, vanilla bean, and water

Magical things happen when you cook quince to make membrillo. First off, you have to cook quince as most are not edible raw. The fruit is naturally high in pectin which lends itself perfectly to making jams and jellies. The color goes from pale yellow to orange-pink to deep rose. Oh, and the fragrance gets stronger as it cooks. One of the recipes I referenced describes it as smelling like mulled cider. Just lovely.

tender quince pieces


Making membrillo isn’t hard, it’s just time-consuming and requires some babysitting. You can peel the quince if you like, but I decided to leave the skins on. It saved me some time and you can’t detect them in the final product. I boiled the chunks of quince in a large pot of water with lemon peel and a vanilla bean. They’re ready when they are soft, at which point you drain them, remove the vanilla bean, and purée everything in a food processor or run it through a food mill.

stir in equal amounts of sugar

add lemon juice

Measure out the volume of your quince purée (I had 4 1/2 cups) and then measure out an equal amount of sugar. Pour those back into pot and stir in some lemon juice. I just used the juice of the whole lemon because I wanted more tang to it if possible. And then you set it over medium to medium-low heat and stir.

at first, it looks like it isn’t doing a thing

but eventually it will darken and deepen in color

Keep stirring occasionally to keep the quince from burning. It will thicken as the color changes. It should take about an hour to 2 hours to get to the right consistency. I’d say you want it to be thick, but not so stiff that you can’t pour it. That’s what I did, because I thought it had to be a deep rose color, so it was a bit of pain getting it into the baking pan.

this might be a little too thick

line a pan with parchment paper and butter it well

Let the quince settle into the pan and smooth the top. I actually debated baking mine in a loaf pan because I like taller slices, but whatever. The purpose of baking is not to cook the membrillo so much as to help dry it out for an hour, because you’re essentially in as low an oven temperature as you can get. One recipe said 125°F (mine doesn’t go that low) and another said 200°F with the fan on or the oven door ajar. I set mine on 170°F and called it good.

smooth out the top of the membrillo

remove from oven and let cool

I’m pretty sure that my membrillo is slightly harder than it should be. Next time, I’ll not cook the hell out of it and try the loaf pan, but this one still turned out well with a beautiful flavor. We paired it with some Manchego cheese and an Argentine Malbec one afternoon. The membrillo also makes for wonderful handmade gifts, if you can stand to part with it.

a lovely nibble of membrillo with manchego

Membrillo (Quince Paste)
[print recipe]
from Simply Recipes and Always Order Dessert

4 lbs. quince, washed well (about 5 medium quince for me)
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 lemon, peel of (just the yellow, not the white pith)
lemon juice (this will depend on how much quince purée you wind up producing)
4-5 cups sugar (this also depends on the amount of quince purée)

Cut and core your quince. You can peel them if you want, but Alejandra said she leaves the peel on and in the final product. (Worked great for me.) Place the quince, vanilla bean, and lemon peel in a large saucepan. Fill with enough water so that it covers the fruit by an inch. Bring the water to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Let everything cook/simmer until the quince are fork-tender (took me about 45 minutes). Strain the quince, discarding the water and the vanilla bean (but keep the lemon peel). Purée the quince and lemon peel in a food processor or press through a food mill until smooth. Measure the amount of purée you have and pour it into the saucepan. Now measure out the same amount of sugar as the purée (I had 4.5 cups of purée, so I added 4.5 cups of sugar) and pour that into the saucepan, stirring together. Add a teaspoon of lemon juice for each cup of purée (okay, I added 1 tablespoon for each cup because I really like lemon). Heat the purée over medium heat then reduce to medium-low, stirring frequently on a simmer to avoid burning the quince. The purée should go from golden to a dark orange-pink color over the course of an hour or more and it should thicken considerably. (I think I cooked mine a little too long, hoping to get an even deeper color.) Remove from heat.

Preheat the oven to a low setting (Elise says 125°F, Alejandra says 200°F with fan on or door cracked ajar, my oven goes as low as 170°F). Prepare an 8×8-inch baking dish, lining it with parchment (NOT wax paper) and buttering it generously. Pour the quince into the pan and smooth it out. [Note: If you cook yours on the stove for a long time like I did, it’s a lot harder to spread the paste out in the pan.] Bake the quince paste for about an hour to help it dry out, then remove from the oven, peel off the parchment, and cool. You can wrap the membrillo in plastic and/or foil and refrigerate for up to a year. Makes quite a bit (I’m not even sure how to quantify it).

39 nibbles at “while the gettin’ is good”

  1. Handcrafted With Altitude says:

    Thank you for sharing the wonderful recipe. One of the gals I swap with at the Longmont Farmer’s Market said she had some quice if I wanted them – how fortuitous that I saw your post. I’ll have to email her and see if she still has some.

    As always, thank you for sharing your fantastic photography. Especially since you’ve focused on one of my favorites – aspen.

    -the redhead-

  2. Kitt says:

    Oh, yum. Now I have to see if a quince tree will grow here!

    I didn’t get to do any leaf-peeping this year, and you’re making me regret that. Maybe we’ll head up to the peak-to-peak next weekend.

  3. Amy says:

    Such beautiful photos! I can’t wait to see a true Autumn – especially since we are coming into summer over here in the southern hemisphere :) Thank you for sharing the photos.

  4. Judy says:

    Aw, you’re making me homesick with those photos. Just gorgeous!

  5. Megan says:

    Mm, it looks delicious… I love quince paste, but it’s definitely too sweet for me to have often.

    A point of note, too: you can eat quince raw, but unless you love sour flavours, you probably won’t enjoy it. An Iranian friend of mine gave me thin slices of raw, peeled quince once. I enjoyed the sourness, but not so much the dry mouth that I was left with. Nothing that a little tea couldn’t fix! But it was an interesting experience.

  6. sara says:

    Wow, gorgeous photos! :) Also love the quince paste…I really like this with a cheese plate, but have never thought to make it myself…sounds like a fun project! :)

  7. Tish says:

    Nice post. I make quince paste every year. This year I tried it in my slow cooker on high with the lid off instead of on the stove top. It takes longer but you can get away with only stirring every 20 minutes or so – I just picked a day when I was around the house anyway and kept setting a timer to remind me to stir it – turned out beautifully with a lovely dark garnet colour and a great texture. I vacuum pack the paste and it keeps forever.

  8. Wendi @ Bon Appetit Hon says:

    It’s like you read my mind. I have been wanting to find a recipe for quince paste and today it found me.

  9. Louise says:

    Thanks for sharing your awesome photos!
    As kids we lived on raw quinces – just sprinkle salt and they’re yummie!

  10. cindy says:

    I always love your fall time photos! My dog always cries in the car too, she either thinks we are going for a bike ride or a hike, and it’s just really stressful for us all. I have never had my hands on any quince, but I love that gorgeous color it turns!

  11. Russell at Chasing Delicious says:

    Those photos are gorgeous! I am very jealous of the fall time colors up there. This recipe looks great too.

  12. Melissa says:

    Just talking about membrillo yesterday! How funny! Will have to try, thanks.

  13. Bev says:

    There, another new food and new recipe. Thanks, I love experimenting! Your series on Colorado autumn has been very enjoyable. Here in the Canadian Rockies, our Thanksgiving (yesterday) is usually at the peak of the colours, but this year either Thanksgiving is early, or the colours are a wee bit late. We enjoy seeking the best colours and trying to find good burgundy, rust and red contrasts. Sometimes we stop for a large patch of wild roses if the mountain ash haven’t turned. Here, we have vast forests of Larch (Tamarack, to some) which, with their lemon yellows with dots of dark spruce and pine, are outstanding. We make the best of all four seasons by enjoying the colours each brings.

  14. cecile says:

    Wow, wow! The ‘sunset on the sneffels range’ picture is breathtaking.

  15. Winnie says:

    This is freaking gorgeous. All of it!

  16. Kel says:

    Breath taking photos!!

  17. dawn says:

    Those photos of yours are wonderful and this recipe is exactly what I’ve been looking for on this just-getting-over-the-flu-and-wanting (no, needing)-to-cook-some-fall-thing Monday afternoon.
    I’ve been reading your blog for awhile, now. I just love it. I think you might not live too far from me, as I hear the kids at the elementary school, too. I’m on a side road, just a little ways up Caribou Road. How lucky were we to get some snow while the Aspen leaves are still hanging on? Yay Fall!

  18. Linda says:

    Absolutely beautiful photos! Our NE PA fall foliage seems muted this year…perhaps too much rain?

    I’d love to find some quinces & try this. My mom always used to buy quince paste. I credit her for my adventurous food habits.

  19. Rumpy Drummond says:

    Oh my! That looks so good! But you make everything look so good.

  20. Trolleira says:

    Mmmhh looks really great. Here in Brazil we call it marmelada, the fruit marmelo – I think this is where the german word for jam – Marmelade comes from!

    Great receipt!

  21. Margie says:

    I need me some quince!

    This is one more to add to my bucket list. :)

  22. Jill says:

    You captured the colors and the weather! Love it.

    hope Kaweah was glad to see you! j

  23. Almay says:

    Wow what a phenomenal post – and an inspiring recipe – as well as an inspiration to visit N America in the fall! Wonder which way round is the shortest from Australia! :)
    V cool blog!

  24. Kankana says:

    such lovely fall colors! Here in CA we hardly get to see this. The Membrillo looks so lovely and the color is heavenly.

  25. Michael Frye says:

    Beautiful photographs Jen! I’m going to have to get out to Colorado in the fall one of these years…

  26. Cookin Canuck says:

    Jen, those are some stunning shots. I popped over to your photo blog and found myself getting lost in the colors of the leaves and contrast with the mountains. As for this quince paste – well, I can think of nothing better than sitting by a roaring fire with a glass of wine and a little bowl of quince paste and cheese.

  27. Sil says:

    Jen, those photos are amazing!! My favorite? Sunset on the sneffels range. It looks like a painting. Beautiful!
    The dulce de membrillo looks perfect. And with cheese and malbec… even better! You should come back to Argentina but on vacation this time. :-)

  28. Barbara says:

    How did I miss this post? Wonderful. I have never made it because of all the stirring required. I am going to try Tish’s method in the slow cooker next season.

  29. jenyu says:

    Kitt – I sincerely hope a quince tree will grow in your yard. I do. I do. I do :)

    Megan – yeah, it sounds about as bad as eating unripe persimmons.

    Tish – thanks for the tip!

    Louise – apparently some varieties are edible raw, but the majority aren’t so tasty.

    cindy – too bad we can’t explain it to the pups, huh?

    dawn – hi! you probably do live just up the street ;)

    Linda – it’s so complex what determines the colors… I’m slowly learning with each season here.

    Jill – Kaweah is a happy sort no matter what, so I’ll just assume she was happy to see me ;)

    Almay – thanks!

    Kankana – if you travel to the Eastern Sierra, you’ll probably see some beautiful colors now.

    Michael – yes, please do! We’d love to have you and Claudia visit, and I’ll show you all of my favorite aspen stands around SW Colorado :)

    Cookin Canuck – Dara, I think you should just pop over to Colorado and get lost in the fall colors for real next time! Come visit!

    Sil – Oh, I know. Mendoza really tugs at my heart with the wine, cheese, empanadas, mmmm… and who doesn’t love driving in BA? ;)

    Barbara – let me know how it turns out if you try it! xoxo

  30. Andrea says:

    Wow, those aspens are stunning! Thanks for the recipe! I just tried this in NYC (at a fabulous tapas restaurant) when I was there for the first time ever last week. I also saw it in Fine Cooking this month and now I need to give it a whirl…now to find quince!

  31. na says:

    Hi Jen,
    Thanks for posting this membrillo recipe. I’m making this tomorrow since I have some fresh quinces from the farmer’s market. Just a quick question though….what to do with the quince poaching liquid? It seems such a shame to throw it away!

  32. na says:

    Sigh….I made it and it was sooooooo, soooooooo difficult to get at every stage. I don’t know how you all made it so perfectly. First of all, the quinces I had could be eaten raw. I tasted two slices…sure they were a little dry, not as juicy as apples or pears but they were definitely sweet and could be eaten raw. Secondly, my quince pulp was 6 cups, so i added 6 cups of sugar. I cooked it for 2.5 hours and the paste started looking like elise’s picture so i baked it next. I baked it for fifteen(!!!!!!!) hours and it’s still goopy. It’s not sliceable, more spreadable i’d say.
    Anyway, i’m not commenting to sound off on you or anybody else(scout’s honor) :-)
    I just wanted to mention all the difficulties i faced so people know what they’re getting into. It was a LOT of work and absolutely mediocre outcome.
    Sigh….oh well, you win some and lose some :-)

  33. jenyu says:

    na – so, Alejandra has some links to things to do with the quince poaching liquid which I think might be useful for you. I’m sorry your quince was more spreadable. Mine was the opposite – probably on the hard side. I cooked mine too long and you probably didn’t cook yours down enough. I imagine somewhere between ours is the happy medium. I’m really sorry… I hope it tasted good though. I plan to try another batch and not cook the heck out of next time. xo

  34. Camille says:

    Don’t discard ANYTHING when cooking quince. The cooking water make a delicious tea. Just add honey or sugar. Add any combination of cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, lemon, lime or cranberry if you want a little more pizzazz. Or use it as a flavoring for pies, meats and other dishes.

    No doubt you noticed how it shines up the pan you’re cooking in and softens your hands. If you make soaps, oils or other cosmetics, incorporate the seeds, membrane and anything else that you’re not going to eat.

  35. membrillo, or quince part one | Eating From the Ground Up says:

    […] (quince paste)with help from here, and here […]

  36. Susan says:

    I am making a batch today, and was thinking about baking it in a muffin tin. Any idea if I would have luck with individually buttered cupcake paper cups? When I have made it in the past, I cut it into squares, individually wrapped and froze them.

  37. jenyu says:

    Susan – I’m sure it would work, just adjust the time accordingly so it doesn’t turn into a rock.

  38. Susan says:

    Thank you for your support. I will let you know how it goes.

    (Fingers crossed)

  39. Perfect partners for cheese – Dulce de membrillo and quince mustard sauce « nadel&gabel says:

    […] to make those products myself. I read the a bit older, in principal similar membrillo recipes of Jen, Elise, Nicole, Melissa, trying to remember all their helpful tips from their experience. And it […]

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