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Friday, January 18, 2013

Membrillo, A Sweet Treat!

Truck at the Feria selling fruit dulces.
Slowly, little by little/poco a poco, I am trying to discover and taste, foods that typify the "comfort foods" that Uruguayans like to eat. By comfort foods, I mean the type of foods that one would fondly mention in conversation as a childhood favorite or that they would miss if they ever left Uruguay. For instance, I think someone from North America might speak fondly of "Mac and Cheese" (Mac = Macaroni) or PB and J (Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches). By the way, when "I" was growing up, we just said, Peanut Butter and Jelly, this need for abbreviations is the result of the newer, younger Micky D's (McDonald's) computer/twitter generation. Yeah, I'm turning into "an old fogey" but I'm trying to keep up!

Of course, the obvious symbol of Uruguay would be Mate, the herbal tea-like drink that uses Yerba/herb leaves and twigs from the Mate shrub/tree. You steep the dried leaves and twigs in hot water like you would a tea. People here put it into a traditional hollowed out gourd and drink it through a metal straw called a bombilla. It is a community drink, as the same cup is shared and passed among many people (your friends and family) at one occasion. This drink is carried along literarily wherever one goes, that together with a thermos of hot water held snuggly under the arm or in a leather holder thrown over the shoulder by the majority of the population.

Stand selling Mate accessories (gourds, etc.) and leather goods
The second favorite can't get enough of it, comfort food is Dulce de Leche. That is a sweet caramel-like, tan colored substance. At first, upon arriving here in Uruguay, Dulce de Leche inundated my taste buds,  I felt every dessert contained it as an ingredient and I couldn't avoid it. I used to make it "my aim", to find desserts without it, like lemon bars and chocolate cake.

Of course, I had to be prepared for it to be drizzled or layered into those dessert flavors as well. The good news is that I finally got hooked on Dulce de Leche, as much as the rest of the country, so now I'm fine with it. I too, have even been known to sneak a teaspoonful of it, straight out of the container from time to time for a quick taste. I'm still biased against the mate, sad to say. It tastes like drinking straw water, to me at least.

Okay, enough ranting and on to the good stuff. Besides Dulce de Leche, in another post I have already mentioned the tasty treat of Garrapiñassweet covered toasted peanuts and have given the recipe on how to make them.

I'm now adding to the list of fondly talked about foods something called, Dulce de Membrillo.

I must admit that, when I first saw a block/slice of it (pictured above) in the area of our supermarket near the cheese section, my stomach turned queasy. The absurd reasoning for that reaction was that I didn't know what it was and it looked like some jellied meat fat to me, like the jelly from a canned ham but firmer and colored. I think the reddish color made me think it was meat related.  Other expats, have also said in horror, "What is that?" Of course, that's because we were all idiots and couldn't speak Spanish. If we could speak better, we would have seen the word "Dulce" attached to the name which means "Sweet" in Spanish, better still we should have asked! 

Membrillo means "Quince" in Spanish and Quince is a fruit, NOT a meat product, not some weird membrane like the word looks like to an English speaker trying to make sense of foreign looking words. So this strange looking block of stuff, is a sweet, soft, fruit jellied substance and I love it! Click on the above link for a Google translated recipe on how to make your own. Beware that sometimes the blogger or Google (?) mistyped the word liquid as squid. No fish or actual squid is used in this home made brew, just fruit, sugar and liquid (water). I liked her post because the steps are shown in photos.

left: Zapallo/squash and right: Batata/sweet potato Dulce
The reason this Dulce was near the cheese section of the store is that these flavors compliment each other. Of course, we all know that wine and cheese go together as well. We once had a German friend that told us a saying, "Don't tell the farmer about pears and cheese". This was because the taste of the pear fruit with a cheese slice would be so delicious that the farmer after tasting this combination would then hoard these two products from his farm and orchard, never selling them to anyone again so he could eat them all day by himself!

Apparently, here in South America (also in Spain) the favored combination is not pear and cheese but quince and cheese. This cheese and Membrillo (quince flavor) combination is so well known in Uruguay and Argentina that they have a special name for this appetizer. It's known as a "Martín Fierro". Martín Fierro was a fictional character in an epic poem called "The Gaucho"' written by an Argentine named José Hernández. The cheese of choice recommended is called Manchego. I have no idea what that cheese is or tastes like. Really just about any sharp cheddar cheese (or any cheese you like) goes with this quince/membrillo. Don't forget the crackers!

Besides, being made with quince fruit/ membrillo, there are other flavors of this Dulce available. Such exotic names as Batata meaning sweet potato and Zapallo which means squash in Spanish.

Cheese, crackers, and wine along with Batata and Zapallo dulce,
a great appetizer combo.
Wally doesn't really like squash or sweet potatoes even as vegetables so he buys them only because of me. I love the Dulce de Zapallo and the Dulce de Batata but Wally wasn't won over, he didn't like those flavors in the dulce/jelly form either. Then he gave it one more try, and bought the Quince/Membrillo Dulce and pronounced it good! Quince has a slightly bitter sweet quality, a little like Cranberry and he liked the tone-downed flavor. 

I have seen a new stand at the feria selling many other flavors as well. The title photo shows that family stand. I talked to the woman in the photo. She is named Flavia (a common name here). She showed me their blueberry block and her strawberry slab and said that they were the most expensive speciality flavors that they sell. They sell  the standard flavors including the Batata and a Batata with some chocolate swirled in. There is a peach favored dulce that sounds yummy. I have yet to try that one. They also sell a green apple dulce which Wally was the most excited to try. So I came back the next week to buy and try the "Green Apple" dulce. Wally liked it as well. It was a little less sweet, like the quince flavor. That's why I think he likes the green apple flavor dulce as well.

The Apple and Quince flavors that Wally likes!
They are easy to make without using too many ingredients but they take hours in cooking them down to this solid state. Just google them and you'll get several recipes, like the link I included. As frugal as we are, even we, can afford to buy the package outright. Unless, we get a quince bush/tree in the future, Wally says, he doesn't want the bother of making it since we can buy a long lasting slice for a buck or two (20-50 pesos) depending on the flavor and amount you buy. We now often buy this delicious treat.

So except, for the mate drinking, we are enjoying and trying, these yummy tastes of Uruguay.


Anonymous said...

This really looks yummy.

Do any of these dulces and membrillos require any refrigeration? How long do you think these items remain edible before spoiling? Just wondering, if you happen to know.

Thanks for another great post.


Marvina Case said...

It looks like Jello is the consistency the same?

Anonymous said...

So membrillo is made of squid membranes! Who'd a thunk?

FWIW, in our family we said PB&J in the 1960s. However - perhaps because so many Italians lived near us in New England - we never Americanized 'macaroni.' How crass ;-)

And to nitpick: yerba appears to be a localized Spanish version of the word hierba, meaning grass or herb. So mate is a drink made from theyerba mate plant, not 'yerba tea.' If that makes sense.

At any rate, thanks for your continued reporting!


Unknown said...

"Dulce de membrillo" was introduced by the british. You can find it also in Australia in a very similar way. Many years ago you could buy it in huge cans of 2 or 3 kilos.

Ximena said...

Denise: I love all "dulces", but I have never seen the green apple one sold near my home. I will look for it as I love apples and the dulce de manzana/ cheese combination looked really yummy. Congrats on showing even Uruguayans new things about our country.

Denise said...

The dulces seem to be kept in the feria/farmers market without refrigeration and some local stores get it in as a speciality item and offer it out on a counter wrapped where it is quickly sold out. However, the large stores keep it in a refrigerated section. I keep it in my refrigerator as well

The consistency is thicker than Jello and not as wiggly. It is a duller color and a little more dense.

another fat girl gone blog-al said...

In Cuba we call those dulce's Guava. Not just as guava the fruit but the jelly itself we call it guava. So we would call that guava de manzana. I love seeing how things change in Spanish from country to country.

Anonymous said...

You can find triple sec at tienda los dominguez (Paraguay esq Colonia, in Montevideo)