Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Quince Paste With Ginger, Cinnamon & Allspice

The first time I ever had a thicker-than-jam fruit paste with cheese, it was the Caribbean “pasta de guayaba” or guava paste eaten along with Puerto Rican “queso blanco” offered to me in a college classroom as a sort of culinary culture lesson. And I'm sad to say, it grossed me out. My fault, really. I still had a closed mind about tasting new things and super thick jam with cheese was just too weird for me. Never mind that I’d eat a cream cheese & jelly sandwich in a heart beat. Fast forward over my Spanish experience of hospitable force-feeding at the hands of Mrs. Gutierrez where I had no choice but to start liking all matter of “weird foods”: olives, yogurt, dates, calf’s brains (well, I actually never took to calf's brains), and I’m now a full-fledged member of the non-picky eater community.

These days I love fruit pastes with cheese or with meat, for that matter. In a couple weeks, we’re invited to Geneva for a seasonal dinner of “la chasse” in other words, wild game and those strong “gamey” flavors work really well next to something pungent, sweet and sour. I'm going to another part of the Spanish-speaking world for that: Since the tropical guava is not available in Spain and Argentina, those countries are famous for "membrillo", a fruit paste made from quince.

Quinces look like big, fuzzy misshapen apples. You have certainly seen them in any number of Renaissance still life paintings. They are hard as rocks and must be cooked before eating if you don’t want a mouthful of acrid, sandiness. Cooked, however, they are just lovely! I found a great recipe for quince paste at Beyond the Bland. This particular recipe is unique because it suggests you bake the whole, unpeeled quinces for 2 hours until they’re soft and their skin peels right off. Other recipes I’ve used in the past have you trying your best to get the thin peel off the bumpy surface and then trying to slice the rock-hard flesh to get the seeds out. It’s as bad as dealing with fresh pumpkin! I consider this new way a god-send since it gets the peeling and seeding job is done with minimal effort. I took some of Beyond the Bland's suggestions and left others. I got nice, soft quinces after 1 1/2 hours of baking at 350 F. They suggested using an oven mitt to protect your stirring hand from the hot splatters. I fortunately had no hot splatters but it's a great idea anyway. I followed their stirring instructions to the letter. My ingredient list looks like this:

3 large quince apples
1 cup sugar
1/4 in piece of ginger, finely minced and crushed with the side of the knife
1/4 tsp ground true cinnamon (Mexican)
1/4 tsp allspice

Well, after pouring out the membrillo into a greased, rectangular bread pan and licking the spatula, I have to say this is delicious! Music to taste membrillo by: The release "Pure Guava by Ween. I just hope I got it thick enough. Time will tell. This will hopefully add a nice sweet/sour note to our game dinner.

**New Ideas: I think next time I might just add some savoury spices as well to make a hybrid, fusion Spanish/Indian membrillo/chutney. Imagine this: to the ginger, cinnamon and allspice, add some ground red pepper, cumin and coriander. Pair that with a slice of venison... Mmmm...


Anonymous scott said...

This sounds great. I've never had membrillo, but I've eaten a lot of venison, and I think you are onto something here, Susan. I particulalry like the idea of a little dried chile added into the mix. Sweet and hot is even better than sweet and sour.

8:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sweet and hot does sound awesome. I bet you can use this with just about any meat....right?

9:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds so lovely and warm in a wintery, spicey sort of way.

I had raw quince for the first time recently. My boss has a tree and allowed it to over ripen. It was still very crisp and a little astringent but totally edible. It had completely lost it's fuzz before he picked it and then it sat around the office for a week... added a great tropical smell to the office. Of course then the fruit flies came and I took it home with me.

The flavor was pure pineapple, and the texture was super under ripe apple.

12:46 AM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Hi Scott, I think you're right. I'll have to just wait 'til next time, though since after 25 minutes of cooking, the paste is now solid and there'll be no mixing anything into it.

I'd say this would go well with any poultry and also pork, certainly lamb and maybe with beef.

Wow! I'd never heard that it was possible at all to eat a raw quince. I guess they're a lot like persimmons. If you wait forever, they get edible. Thanks for the comment.

9:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a great post, Susan, I've learned so much! I've never tried membrillo, but the Indian-Christians make a sticky guava sweet around Christmas time which they call 'guava cheese'! Guess the tradition must have been handed down by the Portuguese conquistadors.

The membrillo does look so inviting, mmmmmmmm, wish I was over at your place for dinner tonight! :)

6:38 PM  
Blogger Stelle In Italia said...

sounds really good, susan. we just bought some quince paste the other day--i'm really looking forward to trying it!

9:33 AM  
Anonymous Ellie said...

Oooh, I've heard about this quince paste (and that it does wonders on a cheese platter) but have never had the fortune to taste any. Quinces have departed here for the moment, but come next fall, I'll be pouncing on these suckers faster than two shakes of a lamb's tail!

1:33 PM  
Blogger Foodie's Hope said...

I grew up eating Guavas in my grandfather's coffee plantation back in India. I love them , specially when they are semi-ripe and just plucked out of the tree!
Lot of good memories:)
But never ate dishes made out of Guavas though.

Never heard of Quinces either! They look like what we call in India 'Wood Apples'! I am not sure it's the same.Dish looks yummy.I love your new idea!!Spices are always good Susan:))

3:22 PM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Hi Jackie, What do they call quince paste in Italy? Pasta di melocotogne?

Hi Ellie, I'm sure that in Australia you'll have plenty of fab fruits to distract you in the meantime!

Hi Asha, I've never had a fresh guava. What a luxury to have your own tree full of them!

7:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Susan, wish I could bring you back some guava from India!

I seem to have lost your e-mail addy, if you still have mine, would you please send me a quick note, I need to ask you something, thanks!

3:41 AM  
Anonymous Marcy said...

Hi Susan,

Thanks for your wonderful blog! I stumbled across it looking for membrillo recipes and, thanks to your and 'Beyond Bland's recipe, finished my first batch last night. Somehow, I have yet to test it so I think I'll do that, well, right now. Ok, membrillo in hand (on some P'tit Basque sheep's cheese) I'll continue (It's divine).

One of the reasons I'm enjoying your blog so much is that my husband and I lived in Italy (Siena) for three years so it is with recognition and longing that I look at your gorgeous pictures. And it's with a smile that I remember bringing cans of pumpkin in my luggage too (along with baking powder and vanilla extract). We didn't think to grow tomatillos but we did have a cilantro patch.

Anyway, I just saw that you are celebrating your blog's one year anniversary so auguri and keep writing!


4:38 AM  
Blogger Ian said...


I'm the "Beyond the Bland" blog guy, and want to thank you for trying the recipe and linking to my blog. The search for a good membrillo recipe was the original trigger for starting my blog, and I tried a lot of recipes before winding up with the version I posted. One trick I've learned since -- the fresher the quinces,the better they thicken, and the better the color of the membrillo.

You have a really great blog too! I'm definitely going to try some of your recipes and add a link to you!

All the best,

4:39 AM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Ciao Lotus, Mysterious messages... hmmm...

Hi Marcy, I'm so glad you tried the recipe! I'm assuming you're in the States or Canada if you'd transport pumpkin, baking soda and vanilla home to Italy. And Siena, some people have all the luck!

Hi Ian, Thank you again for the great recipe and the tips on freshness, especially since quinces seem not to change with time, it's good to know you can't just keep them around. I hope you keep blogging as well! I'll be reading any updates soon.

12:59 AM  
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