I went through a gardening phase in the spring of 2011. On a nursery trip to pick up an extra bag of potting soil, I wound up coming home with a quince sapling, with the sole intention of harvesting quince to make membrillo, Spanish quince cheese. The sapling, by the grace of God, managed to survive the ride home in my little Toyota Camry, half hanging out the backseat window. But once I got it into the ground, I tended to it like a newborn and ensured it had a good anchor of roots heading into its first Michigan winter.
The next year, it bore one quince. One damn quince. No membrillo.
That was our last harvest in Michigan. And of course, now that we’ve moved to Idaho, my mother-in-law reports that bloody quince tree is flourishing and producing more fruit than she can give away.
But, I decided to finally — three years later — scratch my membrillo itch with a recent batch of apples from Cabalo’s Orchard. The quarter-bushel of criterion apples I picked were sweet, but already grainy — this was a dry summer in the Treasure Valley. Apples like this are great for applesauce, apple butter, or membrillo — it just depends how much patience you have for cooking them down.
Membrillo will take you the better part of a day. It involves a low, slow cooking process to caramelize the sugars and thicken the consistency. Stovetop cooking becomes perilous after about 45 minutes — ploppy membrillo spatters added to the constellation of jam spatter burns I already had across my décolletage. So I stuck the membrillo in the oven to finish it off before I could complete the Big Dipper.
Apple Membrillo (Dulce de Manzana)
Makes an 8″x8″ pan of membrillo
- 3 + 1/2 lbs apples
- 8 C water
- 3 C granulated sugar
- juice of 2 lemons
- Peel and quarter the apples, and place into large stockpot. Add water, and bring to boil over high heat. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until apples are very soft and produce no resistance when pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes (less for very ripe apples, longer for very firm apples).
- Remove stockpot from heat. Reserve all liquid in the stockpot and remove apples using a slotted spoon. Place apples into large bowl and set aside. Return liquid to high heat, and bring to a boil. Continue to hard boil until liquid reduces to about 2-3 cups.
- Meanwhile, process cooked apples in a food processor until very smooth, about 45 seconds. Work in batches to press apple puree through a fine-mesh strainer set over another bowl, discarding remaining solids. You’ll end up with about 4 cups of smooth apple puree.
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Add apple puree, sugar, and lemon juice to the reduced liquid in the original stockpot. Cook over medium heat, stirring regularly, until puree thickens to about apple butter consistency (dark and thick), about 45 minutes.
- Eventually, the puree will begin to bloop with dense, ploppy bubbles. This is when you’ll want to transfer the puree to a Dutch oven in the preheated 350°F oven. Cook until puree becomes dark and rusty in color, and a spatula leaves a trail when scraping the bottom of the pot. Stir and scrape down the sides of the pot with a wooden or rubber spatula every 15 minutes. It can take up to 3 hours to cook down, depending on the size of your Dutch oven — smaller-diameter pots are slower than larger-diameter pots.
- Prepare an 8″x8″ baking pan by greasing and lining with parchment. Pour completed puree into baking pan, let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
- To serve, invert baking pan onto a cutting board, remove parchment, and slice paste. Store paste in airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.