Quince Jelly and Membrillo

Image of quinces growing on a tree

It’s odd how a recipe can vanish almost completely from the culinary repertoire of one country yet continue to be eaten and enjoyed in another. Sometimes it will even get re-imported as an exotic foreign delicacy. Membrillo, the Spanish version of quince cheese, is the perfect example.

Yet fruit pastes and fruit cheeses were sweetmeats every Medieval or Tudor housewife knew how to make as a means of making summer produce last through the winter.

They would sometimes dry the fruit paste in specially carved moulds so when it was turned out it would have a pattern imprinted on it. I’d love one of those. I know the food historian Ivan Day carved his own but my woodworking skills are rudimentary at best. I’m investigating the possibilities of getting one made but on the other hand, unglamorous plastic pots store well in the fridge. Although in theory you can keep quince paste, once dried out, wrapped in greaseproof paper I prefer to play it safe and refrigerate it. But I digress.

If you’ve never tried them, pastes are simply a much-reduced jam, cooked slowly so they set stiffer and can be cut in neat slices. Intensely flavoured, they are delicious with cheeses like Manchego or an aged Cheddar, but you can also cook with them in both sweet and savoury dishes. (Fruit butter is a halfway house: stiff but still spreadable.)

I’m at a loss to know why they fell out of favour in Britain when in other parts of Europe, quince pastes are still widely available.

Image of a basket of quinces

I’ve been surprised, too, at how many English people are unfamiliar with quinces, probably because they have a short shelf life and don’t get sold in the big supermarkets.

For the record, fresh quinces look like big yellow pears with a downy covering. They smell divine but are nasty eaten raw, as an unwitting friend discovered when he picked one recently – sour, hard and grainy. Cook them, though, and they are transformed. I’ll be giving some recipes in the coming weeks but first, the quince cheese.

In Spain it’s known as membrillo (codonyat if you’re Catalan); in France, cotignac; in Italy, cotognata. In Portugal it’s marmelada, which rather confusingly is where our name for marmalade comes from. You can use almost any fruit to make a fruit cheese, but quince has to be my favourite. If you see it in the shops, grab yourself some. Or better yet, make your own.

Image of a bowl of quinces

There are two ways to make it. The thrifty method uses the pulp left over from making quince jelly, which gives you a double helping of perfumed fruity deliciousness. (Sorry, I think I’m channeling Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.)

Or you can start from scratch with the raw fruit, which gives you a rather more intensely-flavoured result. I’m giving all three recipes here, jelly and two membrillo methods. Both membrillos are finished in a low oven – infinitely preferable to stirring them on the stove for hours while they spit lava-hot jam at you. Some spitting is inevitable, however. Use a deep pan and a long spoon.

Quince Jelly

  • Servings: Depends how many quinces you have
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You can bulk out the quince with peeled and cored cooking apples if necessary, but don’t use more than half the weight of apples to quince – so if you have 2 kilos of quince, use a kilo of apple.

Image of a jar of quince jelly with fresh quinces


A quantity of quinces



Juice of 1 lemon


Image of quinces being peeled and cored

Peel, quarter and core the quinces and throw them straight into acidulated water (water with the juice of a lemon squeezed in). When they’re all done, take them out of the water briefly and weigh them.

Put them in a large preserving pan with 1 pint/568 ml of water to each pound/450g of fruit. Simmer gently until pulpy and soft, like apple sauce, but don’t let the juice redden – it should be pale.

Turn into a scalded jelly bag suspended over a large bowl or jug and allow to drain overnight without pressing the fruit (or you’ll get a cloudy jelly). Set aside the pulp in the jelly bag to make membrillo.

Weigh the juice, pour it into the cleaned preserving pan, and boil quickly for 20 minutes. This helps preserve the colour.

Take it from the heat and stir in, until completely dissolved, 12 0z/340g of sugar to every 1lb/450g of juice. If the juice is very sour, increase the quantity of sugar to 14oz/400g of sugar to every pound of juice.

Image of quince jelly cooking

Cook at a rapid bubble for 10-20 minutes, skimming off any scum that rises, until it reaches setting point: 105C with a jam thermometer or when a spoonful placed on a chilled saucer wrinkles after a few minutes when you push it with your finger. Pot into sterilised jars and seal straight away.

Quince Paste made from the jelly pulp

  • Servings: Again, depends on original quantity of quince
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Image of quince paste or membrillo made from jelly pulp

This produces a paste a little paler than one cooked with the whole fruit but it still tastes very good and half the work is already done.


Image of quince pulp

A quantity of quince pulp left over from the jelly making

An equal weight of white granulated sugar


Preheat the oven to 125F/52C.

Lightly oil some small ovenproof dishes (or plastic pots if you plan to use a dehydrator) and set aside. Rectangular or square dishes make it easier to cut in neat slices, round ones look handsomer if you plan to turn it out and serve it all of a piece.

Put the pulp and sugar in a large pan, stir well to mix and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved.

Continue to cook gently, stirring continuously, until the mixture has thickened to the point where you can see the bottom of the pan when you drag a wooden spoon through it and the quince clings to the spoon. If in any doubt, cook it for a few minutes more but whatever you do, don’t stop stirring. It burns very easily.

Image of membrillo with a furrow dragged through it

Now turn it into your pre-oiled dishes to a depth of 2-3 inches, smooth the top and put it in a low oven, 125F/52C, for about eight hours. If your oven doesn’t go this low, prop the door open with a wooden spoon. Or if you have one, use a dehydrator on the same heat setting, putting the dishes on the bottom tray.

After eight hours it should be glossy on top and dry to the touch. If not, give it longer – it depends on your oven. Allow to cool, cover and store in the fridge. It makes very good sweetmeats if you roll it in a little sugar.

Image of cubes of membrillo rolled in sugar

Membrillo made from scratch

  • Servings: Depends (sorry) on quantity of quinces
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This is largely based on a 17th century recipe from Hilary Spurling’s wonderful Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book. If you’re interested in the history of English cooking, get your hands on a copy.

Image of cheese with membrillo


A quantity of quinces



Preheat the oven to 250F/130C,Gas Mark 1/2.

Image of quinces ready for baking

Stand the quinces upright in a baking dish and cook in the oven until they’re soft but not collapsing – it depends on how big they are but mine took about an hour. This makes them much easier to peel and core.

Image of quinces after baking

Once they’re soft, peel them and core them, discarding any bruised or discoloured parts and put them through a mouli. Weigh the pulp and put it, with an equal quantity of white granulated sugar, in a large pan. Stir well, cook gently until the sugar has dissolved and cook as for the previous membrillo recipe, above.

This is more liquid than the previous recipe, so expect it to spit at you right up until you get to the dragging-a-spoon-through-it-to-get-a-clean-bottom stage. That will take some considerable time – maybe several hours – but it’s worth it for the lovely jewel-coloured paste you get in the end.

Image of the two membrillos

The two membrilllos – from pulp on the left, using the whole fruit on the right



11 thoughts on “Quince Jelly and Membrillo

  1. Boo-hoo, still no quinces to be found anywhere in the great metropolis (or the SW of it anyway). I will have to gird my wallet and head for Borough, as I so want to make some. Or maybe I should experiment with other fruit cheeses that go with cheesy cheese…

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  5. A rather delayed response on a 2014 post but … I made your quince jelly today (using some ‘ornamental’ ones (which I’ve checked won’t kill anyone and it tastes delicious) but I had a question. I had 950ml/g juice but after the 20 minutes rapid boiling (and I did it lid on) I’d lost about half of it. Is that part essential (thinking maybe for flavour although the original juice was certainly full of ‘flavour’ ie super sour?!) or could I skip that bit and make twice as much? Next year of course! Thanks in advance!

    • Hi Briony, thanks for getting in touch. The rapid boil, apart from colour etc, means you use less sugar over all in the recipe (it can reduce it by half, thus more economical). I also find I get a quicker set because I’ve already reduced the liquid. By all means add the sugar earlier or reduce the boil to 10 minutes. Hope this helps. Regards, Linda

      • Thanks Linda. I’ll have a go at doing it that way next year – unless I find a stash of quince somewhere in the meantime! I’m hoping to do something medlar related soon and am also still trying to work out what I can do with a litre of semi-sweetened crab apple juice – I thought I’d experiment and use the juicer to start a crab apple jelly but hadn’t appreciated that cooking down the apples for juice is actually an essential part of the process! It’s rather bitter and not very ‘syrupy’ but I’m loathe to throw it out! Thanks again.

      • Well, if you’re making medlar jelly you could save the crab apple juice (it’ll freeze) and add it. Medlars are low in pectin so it’d help the set, although I’d still add lemon juice. You’d obviously need to adjust the sugar depending on how much is already in the apple juice.

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