By Dale Hoyt Palfrey
Discover the quince in all its glory at Expo Membrillo, a small town country fair taking place this weekend in Atotonilquillo, Chapala’s most distant satellite community.
In contrast to the bit part Ixtlahuacan gave to the town’s eponymous fruit at a recent festival, the neighboring agricultural community puts its prize orchard product in a starring role.
Now in its 24th year, the Feria Annual Expo Membrillo runs on Saturday, August 12 and Sunday, August 13.
Local fruit growers and family-operated cottage industries set up handsomely decorated booths ringing Atotonilquillo’s central plaza to showcase the freshly harvested fruit both in its natural state and transformed into a wide array of taste treats.
The festive atmosphere is enhanced by a program of continuous live entertainment, with performers of diverse music and dances genres appearing on stage both days from 11 a.m. to midnight.
Quince lends itself to jelly processes due to its high pectin content. The classic by-product is a dense sweet paté called ate or cajeta. A smooth variety is made by stewing fruit pulp with sugar in giant copper vats. The chunky martajada style is loaded with chopped bits of fruit. Either kind may be shaped into rectangular blocks or varied decorative figures formed in ceramic molds. The tangy flavor of ate pairs up well with all sorts of sharp cheeses for a simple, delectable dessert course.
Other typical membrillo derivatives are pellizco, a sticky jam spiced with ground chile; conserva, cooked fruit slices jarred in heavy syrup; and ponche, a tart alcohol-laced cordial. The fruit is also consumed in its raw state, cut into bite-size pieces and doused with salt, chile powder and a squirt of lime juice.
Folks in Atotonilquillo have a reputation for turning their kitchens into incubators for culinary innovation. Festival visitors will find an array of tempting quince pastries such as pies, tarts and turnovers, some still warm from bakery ovens set up on site. Other quince-flavored goodies to sample and buy include tamales, sherbet, yogurt and soft drinks.
Like most country fairs, Expo Membrillo also features contests testing the skills and creativity of local inhabitants. On Saturday, a panel of judges will select the most attractive booth displays and score chefs for original dishes prepared with quince as a key ingredient. Sunday contests involve entries for the best examples of ate, ponche and newly harvested individual quinces evaluated on size, weight and appearance. Winners in all categories will be announced at Sunday’s awards ceremony.
Atotoniquillo is located about 45 kilometers south east of Guadalajara, just off the highway to Ocotlan-La Barca. Motorists heading there from the metro area drive towards Chapala, veering to the left at Santa Rosa. Several left-hand turn-offs leading into the town are situated about 11 kilometers beyond the Santa Rosa junction, a short distance beyond Atequiza.
Lakeside residents coming from the opposite direction branch off at the same interchange via the right-hand turn lane just ahead of the overpass. To take a more scenic alternate route from Chapala, turn right off the highway directly opposite the entrance to Ixtlahuacan de los Membrillos to access a two-lane paved road that runs past the cemetery and winds through countryside, ending at the Ocotlan highway where Atequiza and Atotonilquillo touch boundaries.