Pili Rodríguez Deus/ January 25, 2020/ intercultural communication, marketing translation, membrillo, recipe translation

Reading Time: 6 minutes

That Translator Can Cook Week 2:
Quince Paste from Cannelle et Vanille

It’s been a while since my first post, but I’ve been busy following a 3-month culinary translation course (keep an eye out for a post on it). Although one of my new year resolutions is to lose weight, I’ve started 2020 with a sweet tooth, making quince paste for the first time in my life. My organic food provider sell them and I had been wanting to give it a try. Did you know the Spanish expression “dulce y queso sabe a beso” [sweet and cheese tastes like a kiss]? Maybe that explains it all.


I was brought up with quince paste but had no idea until recently what the fruit looked like. Don’t miss Nigel Slater’s description (ref. at the end). Nor did I know that it was related to pears and apples and the quince tree originated from South East Asia. Not interested in the translation discussion? Skip to the cooking!


I will discuss the translation of the recipe name, descriptions and measures, in that order.

Quince Paste
Even if this recipe does not qualify as a megacomplex translation, a good translator will not take any word for granted. If I were to translate the recipe name for a Spanish audience, I would revert to its Spanish name, membrillo or dulce de membrillo (literally, membrillo sweet). Membrillo would usually evoke the image of the paste since it is the paste that we most often eat it in Spain. However, if Wikipedia is to be believed, other areas of the Hispanic world consume it raw too in which case ‘dulce the membrillo’ would distinguish it from the fruit. Even if you can make jam or jelly, dulce the membrillo evokes the hard, cuttable paste.

Translating from Spanish into English, I would have three options: use dulce de membrillo to maintain the cultural colour; add a description such as quince paste or use the description alone. The type of audience and publication; the author’s personal style and the publisher’s marketing strategy would influence my final decision.


Something between pineapple and chamomile


This is how the cookbook author, Aran Goyoaga, describes the fragrance of quince fruit, though I am pretty sure that each person will use a different referent to compare it to. Indeed, Daring Gourmet describes it as wild English roses and Alex Kingston (BBC Food) as a fragrance unlike any other. In this case, I would maintain the author’s description: the delicate aromas of pineapple and chamomile are quite international as pineapples are exported worldwide and chamomile is a well-known digestive infusion, though a lot more common in Spain.

Yet, tastes, textures and colours can be perceived differently across cultures. The explanation is simple: people construe them from their personal experience of local products, as with the English roses above. Therefore, I would research how a flavour/texture/colour is perceived in both the target and source cultures if I felt it needed. Let us look at some examples:

  • Taste. In the research for my MA dissertation I found the taste of buckwheat described as nutty in Spanish cookbooks, earthy in American ones.
  • Colour. In Directo al Paladar (ref. below), they describe the colour of cooked quince paste as butano, the bright orange-skin colour of Spanish gas bottles. There you have a cultural-specific reference. Meanwhile, in English texts, I’ve seen it described as rosy, deep ruby and deep orange. I personally think it is more brown or golden than orange. What do you think?
  • Texture. Nigel Slater, whose writing I love, uses the referent of Turkish delight to describe the texture of quince paste. What all of this shows is that culinary translators need to know their trade aka be specialists. For example, Turkish delight is not a common sweet in Spanish supermarkets, proved by the fact that it is only sold in the gourmet section of El Corte Inglés, our John Lewis. Therefore, that reference would need to be changed.

Quince paste on a tray

Section references:

Its sweet and intense fragrance brings me so much joy.

The modern cookbook involves a mixture of technical, literary and marketing translation; therefore, to translate it, you need someone specialised in food translation and good at creative and marketing writing.

“Me trae tanta alegría” [literal translation] is the best machine translation you'll find for ‘brings me so much joy’ and it is perfectly ok for understanding purposes and evenly grammatically accurate, but what is not is natural Spanish or a good marketing translation. And your recipe or cookbook are your business card.

A creative translator will think of non-literal ways of expressing your idea; do their best to visualise and understand what you really mean; think of the emotions, sensations and experiences your words evoke. Pineapples are refreshing, sweet and exotic while chamomile is relaxing and mellow. The delicate perfume of quince could be said to transport the cook to another world; therefore, a possible translation would be ‘Me transporta a otro mundo’. More literal yet idiomatic would be ‘me alegra el día’ [brightens my day], ‘me sube el ánimo’ [picks me up] or ‘me pone de buen humor’ [sets me in a good mood], all more enticing and natural than the literal translation, although just quick-fire proposals.

Another thing a non-specialist is likely to miss out, especially as it will be misused online, is the correct translation of fragrance, which, in Spanish, is associated with cosmetics, not with food.


A medium lemon 
The author lists a medium lemon in the cookbook recipe, which is the one I used, but leaving out the size as she does in her blog version of the recipe might be best. Why? We like to blame our cooking failures on measures, sometimes with reason, sometimes out of inexperience. It is normal to make mistakes when making a recipe for the first time even if the recipe is absolutely fine. Authors cannot predict every reader’s gaps of knowledge. They can certainly try, but the book or recipe might end up being too long or too patronising for others.

Some books mix easy and complex recipes, and this might be where the problem lies. I quite like a collection of easier recipes for everyday and a repertoire to aspire to when I have the time or I’m feeling more adventurous, but catering for different publics at once may turn out to be as difficult as catering for different students in a class: some need a lot more direction than others, some need a lot more time, some need a lot more encouragement...

So, how big is a medium lemon? If you list a lemon, we’ll want to know how big and if it says medium we’ll still wonder how big that is. Should you be weighing the juice? Perhaps. It depends on how important the measure is to the success of the recipe.

Four large quinces
If you’ve never seen a quince in person before, how do you judge? Reading the whole recipe before buying, and before cooking, is good practice. Then we know that the amount of sugar and stewed quince must be equal and the quinces are measured when stewed. As it was the end of the season, two of my quinces were spoiled, so I used half the amount and it still turned out perfect.

A medium pot
I will admit I did have to use my own judgement to calculate the amount of water in which to stew the quince. Again, Goyoaga’s blog version of the recipe provides a better indication of how much water to use. Compare “Cut the lemon in half, and juice it directly into a medium pot filled with water” with “Place the quince in a large pot and cover them with water…”. Which would you prefer? Cover them with water is what I did, but, if you read the recipe first, you'll  know that in this recipe the poaching water is discarded.


The only drag with cooking was needing to stir regularly, so it was handy that I was making risotto at the same time. What I was terrified of, however, was that it would not set. I needn’t have been. The instructions ask to stew the quince for twenty minutes before pureeing it, then cook the purée and sugar mixture “until it is very thick and has turned a deep golden-orange colour, about one hour”. Mine cooked for two hours. This is partly because of being overcautious and partly because I got rid of our freezer, and the test consists of placing a teaspoon of paste in the freezer for a minute to see how it sets. Nevermind, I judged by eye until it started sticking mildly to the sides of the pan.

Relying on minute instructions never made anyone a confident cook. Besides, as Nigel Slater says, “You cannot hurry a cooking quince. They are ready when they feel like it.” I later found a different test in Directo al Paladar: stick a wooden spoon in the centre of the cooking pot and when it stands it’s ready. Why did I not think of that?!

Pairings and ideas for quince recipes

In Spain, we commonly pair up quince paste and cheese. Its heady sweetness goes brilliantly with mature manchego and therefore with mature cheddar. But my favourite pairing consists of a thin slice of membrillo sat on a generous chunk of fresh cheese, also called Queso de Burgos -a type of uncured cheese produced in Spain. At Christmas, a neighbour of my mother’s gifted her a homemade one, and I ate most of it, with membrillo of course.

Homemade cheese

Take part in the debate

What’s your favourite pairing for membrillo?
• How do you eat it in your country or culture?
• Have you got a special recipe to share?
• Any thoughts on the translation side of the discussion?

Are you a cookbook publisher? I am interested in translating this gluten free cookbook into Spanish. Contact me at pili at pilirodriguezdeus.com to discuss.

Membrillo recipe from Aran Goyoaga’s blog: http://www.cannellevanille.com/seasons/autumn/membrillo-finally/
Watch Aran Goyoaga’s book trailer to find out about her philosophy: http://www.cannellevanille.com/my-book/
Buy Cannelle et Vanille. I shall publish a review of the book here soon. https://www.waterstones.com/book/cannelle-et-vanille/aran-goyoaga/9781632172006

Read about the translation of texture: Daniel, Ch., & Roudot, A.C. (2007). La terminologie de la texture des aliments. Meta, 52(2), 342-351. http://dx.doi.org/10.7202/016075ar

Recipes with quince for Spanish speakers: https://sevilla.abc.es/gurme/las-mejores-recetas/para-los-amantes-del-membrillo-prepara-estas-10-recetas-muy-dulces/
Recipes with quince by Nigel Slater. I certainly will try the roasted quince next year:
Other ideas from BBC food:
Find substitutes or varieties of fresh cheese:
Make quince jelly:


My next post will be about gluten free madeleines.

© Pili Rodríguez Deus | All rights reserved.

Share this Post