Solon of ancient times is said to have decided that Cydonian apples should be presented to newlyweds. Since they are pleasant to the taste and the digestion, their delicious charm stays in the mouth, so that the breath is made sweet by them.
from alciato's book of emblems
Coines, Coing, Cydonian apple, Pineapple quince, Quince, Quitte
derived from the portuguese word for it, called 'marmela'?
i used to think my parents came to canada smuggling quince fruit deep in their suitcases. that's how much i remember seeing this odd, inedible raw fruit [obviously, looking back as an adult it was around only during its season but it did figure a lot in our diet]. i say odd because i was intrigued as a child that it tasted like absolutely nothing, was hard as a rock but smelled of perfume and seemed almost exotic.
well, it tasted like nothing until it was cooked.
related to both the apple and pear, quince is a common mediterranean and european fruit. it has a very rich history and a quite fascinating one. historic foods.com has an exceptional article all about it with beautiful pictures of the delicacies and elaborate designs confectioners would make with the paste. do check it out. it is one of my favourite sites when it comes to food history and information. the splendid table has a short radiocast about the quince you can listen to telling you all about the fruit giving you a bit of its history, how to buy one and how it's prepared.
the quince starts off as a beautiful pink flower growing on gnarled trees. both my parents had quince trees in their yards and remember when they came to bloom. my mother told me ladies would stop to look at the flowers much like one is struck when seeing a magnolia tree in full bloom. [i never thought the quince blooms were anywhere as dramatic though and could compare].
when mature and harvested, it is usually medium sized to as big as a fist and naturally covered in a downy coating however more during its immature state. this is washed/cleaned off when it comes to market and home. the ones i bought still had tell-tale signs of this coating. i tried to show it in the crevices of the photo below.
i grew up with knowing this called a few different ways — ayva, coing and membrillo/bimbriyo. none of my childhood friends at the time really knew what in the world this was if i mentioned it. it was foreign to them. quince has historically been a significant fruit in sephardic circles. in spanish it is called membrillo and is commonly jellied and served with manchego cheese in spain. in the ladino language it is called bimbriyo [the m is pronounced as a b], and is cooked the same way, used in jellies, jams and sweets. it is sometimes used in stews with meats and used as one of the fruits blessed at rosh hashana.
the quince is high in pectin so it gels very easily. this is why it was a favourite for making jellied sweets and various jams and marmelades. as noted earlier, it was the original marmelade. in this post, i am showing you a very, very old [sephardic] sweet called dulses de bimbriyo or in castillian spanish, dulces de membrillo. these are usually made at passover and the new year. this confection is actually in a class of its own called, of course, dulses. they can be made from different fruit and sometimes vegetables, like squash. here is a link for some recipes similar to this one.
it takes a little time to prepare this confection as it must sit over night and then later the sweets need to cure for a few days to firm up properly and form a skin — otherwise they are just sticky and not easily handled. the preparation is quite straightforward and simple. nothing complicated, at all.
dulses de bimbriyo (dulces de membrillo)
makes approx. 20 to 24 sweets
2 quite large quince
white sugar [equals amount of mashed quince]
lemon juice, from half a small lemon
whole walnut halves or blanched almonds
bowl of water or a few tablespoons orange flower water
peel the quince, cut in half and core them. cut the fruit into equal sized chunks.
over medium heat, cook the quince sugar mixture, stirring all the time with a spatula. the idea is to cook it down to reduce the moisture content and to bind the sugar with the fruit. the pectin in the quince with help it hold together further.
this is a picture of how it will look. do not let it cool too much or you will have problems with the following steps. if it does become too cool to work, reheat it a bit and mash it again.
after they have cured, put icing sugar in a medium bowl or ziploc. place one or two candies in the sugar and roll to cover completely. these can be stored in a tin for a very long time. they actually taste better with age.