In late summer, this nondescript bush in my wife’s garden was full of hard yellow fruit with cottony fluff on the outside and a heavenly smell. “Membrillos” was the answer to my obvious question; “you have to cook them in water before you can eat them.”
So I did. I washed off the fluff, peeled them with a vegetable peeler, and cut one in half with a heavy French cook’s knife—necessary because they are hard, like winter squash. Inside was an apple-like core, but my paring knife was inadequate for the task, and for the rest I ended up cutting off the flesh, leaving the square core behind. (Some recipes suggest a sturdy melon baller for coring them.)
I added sugar, cinnamon sticks, cloves and a little water—just like apple sauce—and simmered them.
And they turned red!
The sauce was great; tart and much more flavorful than apple sauce, and although my wife liked it too, she was surprised. She was expecting light colored sliced fruit in syrup, which is what you get when they are cooked with sugar in a large quantity of water.
As it turns out, what I had done was prepare the first steps in making quince paste, called “dulce de membrillo” here in Chile and “ate” (ah-tay) in Mexico, where I had eaten it before. To make the final product (see recipe), one must strain or blend the sauce, add more sugar and cook until very thick, another hour or more, and then bake in a low over for another hour or so to dry and firm even more. Next year I’ll try it—although the commercial variety is very good, widely available, and not especially expensive here in Chile. And it’s great served with a sharp cheese for desert.
Quinces (Cydonia oblongata or C. vulgaris or sometimes Pyrus cydonia), I learned, are an old world fruit, native to the Caucasis, but cultivated widely from India to New Zealand to the east and throughout Europe and Latin America to the west. They were popular in the United States in the early 18th century, but fell from favor as apples spread across the continent. In Latin America, they are wide spread and popular, especially as dulce de membrillo, the paste as a filling for empanadas, as jelly, and as preserved fruit. Here in Chile they are cultivated throughout the north and central part of the country, especially in the metropolitan region (Santiago), Region VI (Rancagua) and Region VII (Talca) and are in the markets from February through May where they sell for 200 to 300 CLP per kilo ($.20-.30/lb.)  They are yellow and very fragrant when fully ripe. Recipes for quinces come from around the world, but especially from the Mediterranean and Middle East and are are widely available on the internet; Simply Recipes has a dozen or so and Historic Food has some interesting recipes from the 18th century. Or just follow my instructions above, for a simple quince sauce.
hola Jim, have been enjoying your food and travel blogs from my outpost in Quipue, one of Chile's less than fascinating locales. there are a bunch of gringos living and teaching in public schools as volunteers,under the auspices of the ministry of ed. cant wait for summer fruit. that at least is good here as well, there is very little restaurant action.ReplyDelete
thanks for doing the blogging.
I'm glad you are enjoying the blog; hope you have a lot of chances to eat the food.ReplyDelete
Best wishes to you and your fellow teachers.