membrillo (quince paste)

the runcible spoon has its place in history ::::

Growing up, I remember reading with my parents at bedtime. My brother and sister, and younger brother if awake, and I would crowd around and listen to the quiet timbre of either my mom or dad read from the stack of usual library books we had in the house. When we moved to England, the choices of books moved from mostly American authors to British ones, and their recounting many a poem or rhyme with a dazzling array of colorful pictures.

hello quince. you look like a sad little animal with a funny nose.

One book that I remember well, not only from the colorful swaths of pictures, but from the story of a cat and owl getting married, helped by a pig and a turkey, and celebrating the union by eating some not so recognizable foods. It was the poem The Owl and the Pussycat  by Edward Lear.

The Owl and the Pussycat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note….

[The Owl sings to the Pussycat, they want to get married, they take a long boat ride to find some funky trees where they find a nice Pig who sells his nose ring to them for an engagement band…]

…. and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon.
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand.
They danced by the light of the moon, the moon, the moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

I had two major questions: what did a runcible spoon look like and why was it required to eat the mysterious food called quince? My mother found one answer, though I’m not sure where outside of the age of the internet (something like the library,  perhaps), that a runcible spoon was a spoon with holes in it. Yet another source I found recently describes it as a a three-prong spoon-like utensil, which I remember as a child being called a “spork” (and for whatever reason, it seemed like the best tool to pretend-shave my legs when I was 8-years-old). I think she also cleared up the questions on quince, but I had never actually seen one so it wasn’t very satisfying.

Fast forward years later, and quince began to creep back into my consciousness, a smoldering deep orange color, like a jewel.  Membrillo,  the menu read. Quince paste. I thought, Now I need a runcible spoon!  After my spotting it on a menu, it then appeared as a centerpiece at a friend’s birthday party, the lumpy apple-shaped fruit having recently been picked from a relative’s tree and placed in a deeply-bellied bowl. How badly I wanted to take a couple of them home but I didn’t feel I could ask — I wasn’t sure if the centerpiece was going to be used for a membrillo-making party later or another reason. They smelled lovely and floral, appley and sweet, with a touch a honey. I wanted one. Badly.

Cooked quince - orange glow

It dawned on me that I could probably find quince somewhere at a farmers’ market. As soon as I found them, no recipe in hand, I still bought some. And that is when my membrillo recipe search started in earnest and finally came to fruition. There are different varieties, some bland in taste when raw, a little tart but not mouth-puckeringly so, and others more sweet. I used a tart variety, a yellowy-green skin color with an ivory flesh. The most impressive thing about this fruit is the dramatic change that occurs with cooking and sugar. It goes from an ivory color to a deep orange color. Pairing membrillo and manchego cheese is a favorite in Spain, the sweet honey taste of the membrillo a perfect compliment to the salty, creamy manchego. I’ve also found you don’t need a runcible spoon to eat it. Fingers work just fine.

membrillo (quince paste) recipe
Recipe type: appetizer
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Use about 3 large quince to make an 8x8x1 sheet of membrillo. Since I had one large quince, I used a smaller diameter container to dry it in. The recipe can easily be scaled up to make more.
  • 1 large quince
  • sugar (amount will depend on how much quince puree you have after cooking)
  • vanilla extract (1 teaspoon) or vanilla bean
  • lemon juice
  • rind of one lemon, in strips
  • water
  1. Wash and scrub quince, making sure the fuzz is removed. Core and cut into 1-2-inch chunks. Keep peels on.
  2. Place quince into large pot and cover with 1 inch of water. Add lemon rind and vanilla.
  3. Boil for about 30 minutes, or until the quince chunks are fork-tender.
  4. Remove quince from heat with runcible spoon (how appropriate!) and place in bowl. Wait! Don't dump the quince water! SAVE IT. We'll talk about this after the membrillo is done.
  5. Using a food processor or analogous machine, puree the crap out of the cooked quince.
  6. Measure your puree. I ended up with 2 cups. Add in enough sugar to make a 1:1 ratio of quince to sugar. I added 2 cups of sugar to my 2 cups of quince puree. Add in 1 teaspoon of lemon juice for every cup of puree. If using vanilla beans, scrape out seeds and add to pot. Save bean dregs for another use. (You can save these babies for our quince water project later, too. DON'T throw them away! It's gold!)
  7. Place over medium heat and simmer for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. You will see an amazing transformation: the once ivory color puree will darken and become a dark orange color. And while the quince paste is cooking, your house will smell amazing. The quince is ready for the next step when it is thickened and that lovely deep color.
  8. Line a baking dish (the amount of quince madness you intend to make and eat depends on the size of the dish) with parchment and butter the parchment. Pour the paste into the dish and smooth out the top.
  9. Flip your oven to the lowest temperature it can heat to (around 150 or 200 degrees F) and place the dish inside for 2 hours or so. If you have heat near 200 degrees F, then crack the oven door a bit. This step helps dry out the membrillo so it isn't running when you try to cut into it.
  10. Flip onto a pan and allow to cool completely. Wrap in parchment and foil and store in the fridge. It keeps for a year, maybe longer, if you don't eat it all. It's a nice appetizer to pull out with manchego cheese at a moment's notice.
  11. Another drying method (but I did not try it): place hot quince paste in parchment-lined pan, cover with another layer of parchment, then place in fridge overnight.
  12. So what to do with that quince water? And the vanilla bean dregs? See Notes section.*
* Quince syrup for soda, that's what! Mix equal parts quince water with sugar and vanilla bean shell, bring to simmer to dissolve all sugar, then cool completely. Chill and mix with seltzer water for a wonderful floral-apple honey-flavored drink. Eat and I drank this pretty quickly, loving the complex flavors. NOTE: Another variation - if you don't want to eat the membrillo with cheese, you can turn it into dessert, serving it as a chewy candy, dredging in sugar or not.



  • Rosemary Walker September 30, 2013 Reply

    I prepared 8 cups of quince pulp, simmered it for a couple of hours until it turned a burgundy colour. I spread it into 2 lasagna size pans and put it in the oven for 2 hours @ 100 deg., then another hour at 125 deg. It’s not runny, but doesn’t look like jello to me. How can I tell when it’s ready? Thanks.

    • story September 30, 2013 Reply

      It’s probably ready. It will firm up some when it cools. The goal is to have something you can slice but not be too gummy. It’s trial and error, as humidity and the amount of quince paste you make may affect the cook time and firming up. I assume the lasagna sized pans are 13×9 inches?

  • Carol October 24, 2014 Reply

    I’ve just found your recipe – it looks great, so thank you very much.

    However, I have to correct your description of a ‘runcible’ spoon – Edward Lear used the word ‘runcible’ (which he had made up) to describe a cat, a goose, a wall, and a hat as well… Definitions have been made up over the years, including those you cite above. But I’m afraid that sadly, there’s no such thing!

    • story October 24, 2014 Reply

      Hi Carol, thanks for your comment. I have actually heard your history as well, that the runcible spoon does not exist. I prefer to think that somewhere in my childhood, it does. Maybe my mother stretched the truth a bit? 🙂

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