Have you heard of a medlar? If not – you’re probably not alone. These very old fruits had their hey-day back in the 1600’s. However, these days they are not so popular – most likely because we don’t quite know what to do with these odd, rustic fruits that don’t ripen on the tree.
The fruit tree itself is very pretty, small and comes alive in autumn when the fruit is ready for harvest. The tree will hold its leaves longer than most other fruit trees, and in spring the tree develops its leaves before the flowers bloom – most unusual for fruit.
The flowers are large for a fruit tree and white, very ornamental surrounded by lovely large green foliage. The medlar is also self-pollinating and is extremely resistant to most common fruit pests and disease, making it ideal for home and organic gardens.
Medlar fruit is often described as ‘ugly’ but I think that is a little unfair. While they are quite unusual looking with a tough, russet to bronze coloured skin, they look very cool in a bowl on a kitchen table. The feature of the fruit is its large open end known as ‘calyx’ that kind of looks like some birds have enjoyed a snack – and led to Chaucer’s elegant description – ‘open arse fruit’. They are also known in the UK as ‘dogs arse fruit’. Charming!
The medlar is not a fruit for the consumer driven ‘must have it now’ person – they are a fruit that rewards patience.
Fruit will ripen once harvested and left to … well, rot really. The process is called ‘bletting’. To blet a medlar you need to leave them in a cool, dry place for a few weeks where they will eventually grow soft and mushy.
Research tells me that in the middle ages people would leave them under their beds to blet. I am not sure I recommend leaving your fruit to rot under your bed in this day and age, most people use an earthern biscuit container or place them under a bell jar in a pantry or near a window in the kitchen.
The medlars are ready when the skin is no longer taught – but sagging with the weight of the softened fruit within. It’s not very pretty, but my, it is very tasty – theirs is a flavour a little similar to stewed apple and quince. They make a great condiment for soft blue cheeses.
Fleming’s sell medlars in winter as part of our bare root range and are available to purchase through our stockists which can be found on the ‘Where to Buy’ tab: http://www.flemings.com.au/where-to-buy/
by Paige Fleming
Here is a delicious Medlar Jelly recipe from David Lebovitz
Makes about 2 cups (500ml)
Medlars must be “bletted”, which involves storing them in a single layer in a rather cool place, not the refrigerator, until they are soft and brown inside. They’re ready when they are very soft and squishy to the touch.
1.4kg medlars (bletted)
1 green apple
3 cups (600g) sugar
1. Rinse and quarter the medlars, and put them in a large pot – skins, seeds, and all. Chop up the apple and add, with the seeds and core, as well. Then add the lemon half to the pot, and pour in enough water so that the medlars are floating in liquid, about 2 quarts (2l).
2. Cook the mixture until it begins to boil, then reduce the heat and let it cook at a low boil for 45 minutes.
3. Line a colander with several layers of cheesecloth or gauze, set it over a deep bowl, and ladle the cooked medlars and the liquid into the colander. Let it strain overnight undisturbed. Do not press down on the cooked fruit to extract more juice from it or your jelly will be cloudy. (It’s very tempting, but resist.)
4. The next day pour the liquid into a large pot – you should have about 1 Litre. Put a small plate in the freezer. Add the sugar to the juice in the pot and cook the jelly until it reaches 104ºC or until it jells, which may happen a little before or after that temperature.
To test the jelly, put a spoonful on the plate in the freezer and let chill a few minutes. If, once cold, it wrinkles when you push it with your finger, it’s done. If not, continue to cook the jelly until it jells. When ready, if you wish, you can offset sweetness with a few drops of fresh lemon juice.
5. Ladle the jelly into sterile jars.
The jelly will keep for up to one year in the refrigerator.