Thursday, November 10, 2011

Membrillo on My Mind

When I was little, membrillo was one of the many gifts our Mexican relatives brought when they visited. I took it for granted. So many years later and so many miles away, I remember this delectable dessert and the loving hands that brought it to my family in Laredo. I remember in particular, Tía Lupita, an elderly, widowed aunt on my father's side who traveled  hundreds of miles by bus at least once every three months all the way from her home in Puebla to visit us. I remember her deeply-lined, smiling face, her wrinkled hands, her warm embraces...and the bags bearing boxes of sweet potato candies wrapped in wax paper, bricks of membrillo, obleas, cinnamon sticks, piloncillo, and beautiful gold religious medallas for all of us.

I was intrigued by the fruit itself from which membrillo is made. Quince or cydonia oblonga was held in high regard by the ancients. For the Greeks quince was a ritual offering to a bride, quince was Paris' gift to Aphrodite, and ancient Roman cookbooks are filled with recipes using quince.

Nowadays, anything can be found at a specialty foods store, even membrillo, but nothing beats the taste of your own. If life hands you a quince tree and you don't know what to do with the stone-hard fruit, make membrillo! But making it is not for the faint-hearted. You'll need some time to spare. Transforming the boiled cream-colored meat of the quince into a fragrant sliced, amber paste shaped into a little brick and arranged with slices of manchego will make your day.
Chopped quince 

Quince paste


Recipe Type: appetiser, dessert

Author: Gilda Valdez Carbonaro

Prep time: 15 mins

Cook time: 1 hour 40 mins

Total time: 1 hour 55 mins

Serves: 15


  • 4 quince (about 3 lbs)

  • sugar (about 3 cups, roughly the equivalent of the boiled quince)

  • stick cinnamon

  • 1 lemon cut in half

  • 1 bean vanilla


  1. Peel the quince and cut in half to boil it with the cinnamon, the vanilla, and ½ of the lemon.

  2. After about an hour, when it is soft, drain the water, discard the lemon, the vanilla, and the cinnamon and cut out the cores of the quince.

  3. Cut into smaller pieces and either smash it with a bean smasher or, to be more efficient, throw it in a blender or food processor.

  4. Measure it and put it in a large pot with an equal amount (or a little less, if you prefer) of sugar. Into this mixture add the zest of the leftover, uncooked lemon half.

  5. Cook it for about 40 minutes, at a medium heat, stirring constantly until it turns a pinkish, amber color.

  6. After it has thickened into an almost solid mass, pour it into a container and let it dry on its own. After a few hours it will have set into a shape that is easy to slice.

  7. Slice it thin and serve it with equally thin slices of manchego cheese.


Ripe quince is yellow.
Serve as an appetizer or as an after-dinner dessert with a nice Prosecco.


  1. Great minds think alike-- I only wish it was easier to find quince--keep spreading the word! I loved discovering it when I studied in Spain and love it with manchego as well. I didn't know it was eaten in Mexico as well.

  2. Gilda Valdez CarbonaroNovember 10, 2011 at 9:49 AM


    And I didn't realize it was eaten in Spain until I started doing a little research. Thank you for writing. Hoping you can find you quince.


  3. My family in Mexico had groves of membrillo - so delicious. Yes, I have always heard of prepared membrillo candy paired with manchego but I have never tried it. It sounds yummy. Wish it grew in Laredo, it probably can but... I have yet to see a tree here.

  4. Gilda Valdez CarbonaroNovember 10, 2011 at 1:20 PM

    "Groves of membrillo" ...that sounds beautiful! Where in Mexico? I know I have distant memories of these trees too, but I don't remember from where, maybe from Villaldama, who knows? Thanks for writing.

  5. Thank you so much dear Gilda. I have grown up to know this awesome fruit vey well. My Mom used to make the jam and I loved it very much. Have even eaten this fruit!! don't ask me how! The seeds of the quince are the best medicine for sore throat and cough. The saved and dried seeds can be soaked in the warm water for a couple of hours which creates a gelatinous liquid. Drinking that slowly helps coughing.
    I certainly am going to try this recipe.

    Much love,

  6. Fresh quince not easy to come by in Colorado. Great post. I have vivid memories of treats brought back from Mexico when some visited or returned from a trip.

  7. Gilda Valdez CarbonaroNovember 10, 2011 at 8:28 PM

    Dear Parvin,

    Thank you for this wealth of information! Yes, apparently quince has a tremendous amount of pectin, hence the gelatinuous liguid from the sees. (I will try this for my dry throat from talking too much to my students) I forgot to mention that I bought this batch of quince from a local Persian grocery store. You can get lost there looking at all the interesting things they have. That is how I got my idea to make my membrillo, frankly. Do you have these stores in Austin?

  8. Gilda Valdez CarbonaroNovember 10, 2011 at 8:31 PM

    Dear Andrea,

    As I mentioned to Parvin, I found it at a Persian grocery store. The quince was wrapped in tissue paper :) ...not that it can be easily bruised. And I have seen quince at a local farmers market. But, you're right it's not easy to come by.

    Thank you for writing.

  9. Awww! Makes me miss my grama! We had a membrillo tree in our backyard and my grama made delicious empanadas and pies with the fruit from her trees. There were always wonderful aromas coming from her cocina.

  10. Gilda Valdez CarbonaroNovember 11, 2011 at 9:15 AM

    So glad this brings back those sweet memories. Thanks for reading, Yvette.

  11. Hi Gildas. I just made some membrillo and it did not turn the beautiful red orange like my mothers. Can you tell me why I did not turn the beautiful color? ThankYou

  12. Gilda Valdez CarbonaroOctober 18, 2012 at 12:30 PM

    What color was it? I believe the color has to do with cooking it long enough and making sure it has enough sugar. The sugar raises the temperature of the membrillo paste and makes it red /orangish / ochre with a bit of transparence to it.


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