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The Delicious Quince Fruit: Jam, Jelly, and Membrillo

Updated on October 11, 2017
AliciaC profile image

Linda Crampton is a teacher with an honors degree in biology. She enjoys exploring nutrition as well as the culture and history of food.

A quince fruit
A quince fruit | Source

A Delicious and Useful Fruit

Quinces are aromatic yellow fruits that taste lovely when cooked. A raw quince tastes sour and astringent and has a white or pale yellow flesh. When the fruit is cooked for a long time, however, a magical transformation occurs. The flesh darkens and turns into an attractive orange color and the fruit develops a very appealing flavor.

Quince fruits are high in pectin, the chemical that enables both quinces and citrus fruits to gel when they're cooked. Quinces are used to make jams, jellies, and sweet pastes such as membrillo. They are also baked, poached, and stewed. Cooked quince slices are added to sweet dishes as well as to cheeses and meats. They are sometimes used to make wine, cider, or liqueurs.

Quince flowers and leaves
Quince flowers and leaves | Source

The History of Quinces

Quince plants are very popular in some parts of the world today and were once common orchard trees in North America. Individual homeowners would often have a quince tree growing in their garden.

The plant is an ancient one and likely arose in Asia Minor. It was in common use in Ancient Greece and Rome. It's been suggested that the fruit that tempted Eve was actually a quince instead of an apple. The golden apple given by Paris to Aphrodite, the Grecian goddess of love, may have been a quince as well. Quinces were used to fill homes with a fragrant scent and were often considered to be a symbol of love.

The first marmalades were made from quinces instead of oranges or other citrus fruits as they are today. The name “marmalade” comes from the Portuguese word for quince, which is “marmelo”.

How to Cut a Quince

Flowering Quince or Japonica

Quince fruits look like a cross between an apple and a pear, to which they're related. True quince plants have the scientific name Cydonia oblonga. There are related plants that are also known as quinces, however, including the so-called flowering quinces which are grown mainly as ornamental plants.

Flowering quinces are shrubs belonging to the genus Chaenomeles. They are valued for their beautiful red, orange, pink, or white flowers. One popular species is Chaenomeles japonica. The species name "japonica " is sometimes used as a common name for all flowering quinces.

The fruits of a flowering quince are small and have a golden yellow color. Some varieties produce edible fruits that can be used to make quince jelly, just like the larger fruit of their relatives.

Chaenomeles japonica, a flowering quince
Chaenomeles japonica, a flowering quince | Source

Quince Trees

Quince trees are highly branched and sometimes grow as shrubs rather than trees. They have attractive white flowers that are tinged with pink. The fruits are green when unripe and become bright yellow when ripe. They often have a lumpy appearance.

Quince trees are said to be easy to grow, although they are susceptible to some parasites. They live for a long time, which is why some can still be found in old North American orchards and gardens. As they age, the trees often develop an interesting gnarled and twisted appearance.

It may not be possible to pluck a quince fruit from a tree and eat it, as we can do to an apple or a pear, but quince fans today are rediscovering what North Americans of the past knew well. Patiently cooking the fruits produces a versatile food and yields ample rewards.

The fruit of a flowering quince
The fruit of a flowering quince | Source

Making a Jam and a Jelly

To make a jam, quinces are first peeled, cored, and cut into pieces or coarsely grated. Some cooks prefer to leave the peel on the fruit. The peel may have a fuzzy coating, which can be removed with a wet cloth.

The quince pieces are covered with water and boiled. Sugar is added to taste, usually after the quince has cooked for a while and has softened. Most recipes suggest between a 2:1 to 1:1 ratio of quince chunks to sugar.

Quince cores contain pectin. The cores can be placed in a muslin or cotton cheesecloth bag and then suspended in the boiling water to add extra pectin to a jam. Another way of adding extra pectin is to partially cook quince slices which still have their cores intact. When the slices have become soft but haven't disintegrated, the cores should be removed. The slices should then chopped into smaller pieces and cooked until the jam is ready. Quince jelly can be made from water in which quinces have been boiled.

One test that can be used to check whether a jam or jelly is ready to remove from the stove is to place a spoonful of the mixture on a very cold plate. If the mixture wrinkles and doesn't flow when it's touched, the jam is ready. Finished quince jam must be placed in sterilized jars and should be processed in a boiling water bath to ensure that bacteria and mold are destroyed.

How to Make Japanese Quince Jelly

Membrillo

Membrillo, sometimes known as dulce de membrillo, is a sweet quince paste. "Membrillo" is the Spanish word for quince. The paste is especially popular in parts of Europe and Central and South America. It's spread on bread, toast, crackers, and cheese and is used in pastries.

Membrillo is made from a mixture of quince, sugar, and water that has been slowly cooked. Although membrillo is referred to as a paste, it actually has a dense, jelly-like texture. It's sold as a block of gelled quince that maintains its shape. The block is sliced as needed. The slice softens as it's spread over food.

In North America, membrillo is most likely to be found in ethnic or gourmet food stores. It may also be found in health food markets—especially those belonging to large chains—and in farmers markets.

Dulce de Membrillo, or quince paste
Dulce de Membrillo, or quince paste | Source

Manchego Cheese

Membrillo is often paired with Manchego, a Spanish cheese made from the whole milk of Manchego sheep. These sheep traditionally live in the La Mancha region of Spain. They graze on plants growing on a high plateau that is located about 2,000 feet above sea level.

Manchego cheese has a unique flavor that is sometimes described as "nutty". The flavor becomes more intense as the cheese is aged. The inedible wax rind on the surface of true Manchego cheese has a distinctive zigzag pattern that resembles the weave of a basket. Originally this design was created by the grass press used to make the cheese, but now it's applied artificially.

Like membrillo, Manchego cheese is available in specialty stores in North America. Some markets temptingly display the cheese and membrillo next to each other.

Cooking Quince Fruits

Where to Find Quinces

In North America and Europe, quinces are available in autumn in farmers markets, specialty produce stores, and occasionally supermarkets.

Some people have quince trees or flowering quince bushes growing in their gardens and can harvest their own supply of fruits. Others may know someone who grows the plants but doesn't want to cook the fruits and is willing to donate the quinces from their garden.

If a person doesn't want to make their own quince products or doesn't have time to cook the fruits, they can buy quince jam, jelly, and membrillo both in stores and online. Canned fruit is also available.

Harvested quinces
Harvested quinces | Source

Nutritional Benefits of the Fruit

Quinces are rich in vitamin C, but much of this vitamin is lost when a quince is cooked. Unfortunately, most quinces are far too sour to eat in their raw form (although researchers are creating new, sweeter varieties of quince that can be eaten when they are raw). It takes the magic of cooking to change an unappetizing raw quince into a delectable food.

Quinces provide fiber, especially if the peel is left on. They are low in fat and sodium and contain a significant amount of iron, copper, and potassium. Quince fruits are low in calories, but the sugar that is sometimes added to them increases the calorie count.

Quince fruits on a tree
Quince fruits on a tree | Source

A Heritage Fruit for Today

There seems to be a renewed interest in quinces in North America. They are definitely worth investigating. Their delightful aroma fills a room with scent and the lovely, sweet, and slightly tart flavor of the cooked fruit goes well with many foods. It requires a bit of effort to coax a quince to produce its wonderful taste, but the effort is well worthwhile.

References

Flowering quince facts from the Missouri Botanical Garden

How to grow quinces from the Royal Horticultural Society

Quince history and some historic recipes from the Historic Food website

Nutrients in raw quinces from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture)

© 2011 Linda Crampton

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    • profile image

      Larissa 2 years ago

      We have a quince "tree" in our grdean and I made some Membrillo with them, as I had no idea what else to do with it so will definitely give that a try next year. Lovely to have ideas, felt quite special to have some as I've never seen them for sale before, thanks missy! Kellie xx

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, boeregirl. Some factors that would help quince jelly set are adding more sugar as it boils , adding a small amount of lemon juice or, if necessary, adding commercial pectin.

    • profile image

      boeregirl 6 years ago

      I have peeled and cored my quinces and they have been boiling for ages but it is still not jelly like....Help!! What have I done wrong?

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I enjoy quince jam too, Lynne! Thank you for commenting.

    • profile image

      Lynne 6 years ago

      Just made 6lb of Quince jam and left a little in a dish to sample........delicious :)

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the comment and the vote, Eiddwen. It's worth trying quince at least once - you may discover that you love its taste!

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 6 years ago from Wales

      I have never tried quince but I will be giving it some serious thought now.

      thank you for sharing this one. Useful/up for this one.

      Take care

      Eiddwen.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Danette. Quinces are sometimes hard to find, but they're a good fruit to experiment with if you do find them!

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 6 years ago from Illinois

      Hmmm, never tried a quince but after reading this, I'll have to look for one in the store.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Prasetio! Thank you very much for the vote.

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 6 years ago from malang-indonesia

      This is a new fruit for me. I had never knew about Quince Fruit before. It's like a guava in my country. Thanks for share with us. I also enjoy the video above. Vote it up!

      Prasetio

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the visit and the comment, Sandyspider.

    • Sandyspider profile image

      Sandy Mertens 6 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

      Very interesting and sounds tasty.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Good luck with your next batch of quince marmalade, Tina! Thank you very much for the comment.

    • thougtforce profile image

      Christina Lornemark 6 years ago from Sweden

      I tried to make marmalade from quince fruit but somehow I didn't do it right. I wish I had this hub before I throw away my last quince bush! Your hub makes the quince marmalade look and sound so tasty. I know my neighbor have some bushes and I will ask her if she can spare me some so I can try again! Thanks, this was very interesting!

      Tina

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you, kashmir56. I appreciate the comment and the vote. Quince jam tastes very nice!

    • kashmir56 profile image

      Thomas Silvia 6 years ago from Massachusetts

      This delicious hub has made me hungry for some jam or marmalade, thanks for all the great info very interesting !

      Vote up !!!

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the comment, CMHypno. I occasionally find quince jam in my local stores, although it's usually a jam made of quince and another fruit. Hopefully I'll find quinces in the markets in the autumn. We used to have Japanese quinces in our garden when I was a child. They had lovely flowers, but we never did anything with the fruit. What a waste!

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, b. Malin. I think that quince is such an interesting fruit - it tastes horrible when it's raw and wonderful when it's cooked! I would like to try the types of quinces that taste good when they're raw, but I've never found them. Thank you for commenting.

    • CMHypno profile image

      CMHypno 6 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      It all sounds delicious Alicia. I have never tried quinces, so I will have to find some jam or jelly to try out

    • b. Malin profile image

      b. Malin 6 years ago

      Well this was so Interesting and Educational Alicia. I learned a lot about Quince Fruit and it's many uses...Thank You. I've never made Jam or Jelly, but who knows I just might be tempted now...Mmmm. I also Enjoyed the Video.