Discussion: quince paste recipe from Cannelle et Vanille
#ThatTranslatorCanCook Week 2
It’s been a while since my first post, but I’ve been busy with a 3-month culinary translation course. While one of my new year resolutions is loosing weight (how original...), I started 2020 with a sweet tooth, making quince paste for the first time in my life. My organic food providers 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]? That explains it all.
There would always be a tub of quince paste at home, but I had no idea what the fruit looked like (do not 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 came from Asia. Not interested in the translation? Skip to the cooking.
I will cover the translation of the recipe name, descriptions and measures.
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 (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 in which case ‘dulce the membrillo’ would distinguish it from the fruit. Even if you can make jam or jelly, in Spain 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. For example, Daring Gourmet talks of wild English roses and Alex Kingston (BBC Food) of a fragrance unlike any other. Here, 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 way more common in Spain than in the UK, to give an example.
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 the target culture if I felt it appropriate. 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. Directo al Paladar (ref. below), describes 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. Go figure!
- Texture. Nigel Slater, with his wonderful writing, uses the referent of Turkish delight to describe the texture of quince paste.
What all of this shows is that culinary translators need to be specialists. For example, Turkish delight is not a common sweet in Spanish supermarkets, as proves the fact that it is only sold in the gourmet section of our high-market El Corte Inglés. Therefore, that reference might need to be changed.
Its sweet and intense fragrance brings me so much joy.
The modern cookbook requires a mixture of technical, literary and marketing translation; therefore, to translate it, you need someone specialised in culinary 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 is perfectly ok for understanding purposes, and grammatically accurate, but what is not is natural Spanish nor a good marketing translation. Meanwhile, your cookbook is your business card.
A creative translator will think of different ways of expressing your idea; do their best to visualise and understand what you mean; think of the emotions, sensations and experiences your words evoke. Pineapples are 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’ [puts me in a good mood], all more enticing and natural than the literal translation.
Another thing a non-specialist will likely miss out, especially as it is misused online, is the correct translation of fragrance.
Measures and reading recipes
A medium lemon
The author lists a medium lemon in the recipe ingredients, but how big is a medium lemon? If you list a lemon, we’ll want to know how big and you say 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.
We like to blame our cooking failures on measures and instructions, sometimes with reason, sometimes because it's easier than blaming our inexperience, but authors cannot predict every single gap of knowledge. They can try, but the book might end up being too long or too patronising for some, and it is very expensive to print a cookbook.
Four large quinces
If you’ve never seen a quince in your life, how do you judge? Reading the whole recipe before shopping and cooking is good practice, then we know that the amount of sugar and stewed quince must be equal and the quinces are measured once 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 because of what I have just explained.
A medium pot
I did have to use my own judgement to calculate the amount of water in which to stew the quince. 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” and “Place the quince in a large pot and cover them with water…”. Which would you prefer? Cover them with water is what I did and, if you read the recipe first, you'll know that in this recipe the poaching water is discarded, so, again, it does not really matter.
The only drag was needing to stir regularly, so it was handy enough to be 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.
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 trick 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. At Christmas, a neighbour of my mother’s gifted her a homemade one and I ate most of it, with membrillo of course.
© Pili Rodríguez Deus | All rights reserved.
- 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
- Recipe from Goyoaga’s blog: http://www.cannellevanille.com/seasons/autumn/membrillo-finally/
- 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:
- Find substitutes of fresh cheese:
- Make quince jelly: