Life is best processed in memories: bits and pieces of ones lived personally, remembered, or told by others, like our loved ones.
I did not live my mother’s memories, but sometimes I feel they are so real when she tells me her stories.
Like the one about her favorite childhood school snack: “cotognata”, quince paste. She lived in Benevento, during elementary school years, a small town in the countryside in the Campania region, where quinces where a common tree. She tells me the memory of bringing squares of cooked down quince paste made by her mom, in her lunchbox, at school: and recalls it was the sweetest snack, to suck upon the roof of her mouth and savor slowly. I like to turn into a snack for the kids after school too, with small chunks of Parmesan cheese.
Quinces are almost an “endangered” apple-pear species, possibly because the are “ugly” (to today’s aseptic supermarket standards) and a bit intimidating to prepare, but only if you have no patience.
“Cotognata” – Quince paste
By the way, it is known in Spain as dulce de membrillo and in Portugal as marmelada
- 4 quince apples (~800 gr.)
- Sugar: half the weight of the puree of quinces (my puree weighed 600 gr., so 300 gr. sugar, equaling about 2 cups)
- Bay leaf
- Lemon juice from one lemon
Rinse the quinces well and make sure they have no outer “fuzz”.
Cut them in small dice, without removing the peel, but removing the seeds and core.
Boil the apples equal amount I weight of water, the lemon juice, and a bay leaf, until the pulp is soft (about 30 minutes on medium-low).
Once cooked and slightly cooled, strain them in a food mill to puree until smooth.
Weigh the puree then place it in a saucepan, add half its weight in sugar and bring to a boil, and cook, always stirring with a wooden spoon, until the quince jam thickens and becomes amber-colored (about 30 minutes on medium-low)
Pour the quince jam, while still hot, in a parchment paper lined rectangular mold (1/2-1 inch thick) and left to cool (preferably in the sun, or in a dry warm place) for a few days.
Remove them from the forms and finish drying for about another day.
If you wish, roll in granulated sugar, or wrap in parchment paper with a bay leaf on top.
Store in air tight containers a few weeks.
Cotognata squares with chunks of Parmigiano Reggiano: