One of the loveliest things to inherit in a garden is a tree. Right next to the veg patch stands a pretty little fellow, with oodles of charisma. It came up with the prettiest blossom in the spring, glossy foliage in the summer, turning gloriously russet and burgundy come autumn, and swelling with the most peculiar fruit resembling a dog’s arse, before standing crooked and contemplative all winter.
Medlars were enjoyed at a sweet treat before sugar was a big, tangible, wholesale thing, and when England was becoming the Roman Empire. One can’t just decadently eat the fruit straight off the tree though, you must blet it; which is essentially letting it rot at the bottom of your fruit bowl- a perfect way to start a farm to table project for the time-strapped, “I-keep-meaning-to-do-that”, types like myself.
Once bletted, and turned all squishy, and brown you can eat the flesh out of the casing. I’ve heard them described as something like a Medjool date, or a fruity, caramel, cinnamon donut. With that kind of hype, I was fairly excited last year, to try one of these essentially fermented cat’s arses for the first time; the bletted medlars, however, (or Bette Midler’s as they became known in my office) did not, I’m afraid to say, live up to expectation. I can assure you, however, that this is my second year making medlar jelly- and it is a delicious addition to the cheese board, lovely served with cold meats, and an unusual, and unexpected gift for hosts during the Christmas Party season.
Medlars cooking, have a very specific odor, a highly recognizable smell, but somehow it wasn’t until weeks later that it came hot-footing into my brain. Sauna! They smell exactly like a lovely, hot, woody sauna. Albeit a simple recipe, it requires an overnight extraction of the jelly- hanging the souped-up mush through a Muslin overnight, you should be greeted in the morning by a beautifully clear perfectly amber treat, ready to be set, and poured gently into waiting vessels.
In the meantime, save a couple of handfuls of your bletted medlars to turn into a more immediate treat; sticky toffee medlar pudding inspired by Mark Diacono’s recipe. Simply replacing the usual dates with medlars, they’re pud to good use in the most delicious of ways.
The weight of ingredients is dependant on the amount of medlars you have.
Half the medlars, and put in a pan with lemon juice (1 lemon to 1kg of medlars) and cover with water enough to just cover them. Bring to the boil and simmer for an hour. Put in a muslin cloth or jelly bag and leave to strain into a big bowl overnight. Resist the temptation to push the mixture down to speed it up, as this will turn the jelly cloudy. The next day, measure the amount of medlar liquid you have. (Save the pulp for chutney or sticky toffee pudding). You’ll need 375g of sugar to every 500 ml of juice. I use extra pectin sugar for medlars as they have a tendency to not set. Mix the sugar and the medlar liquid in a pan and set to a boil. Use a sugar thermometer to see when to take it off the heat or use the cold saucer method (see white currant jam). Spoon into warm, sterilised jars and seal. It will keep up to a year.
Sticky Medlar Toffee Pudding
For the sauce
- 125g unsalted butter
- 70g golden caster sugar
- 50g dark muscovado sugar
- 150ml double cream
For the sponge
- 200g medlar pulp (300g medlars)
- 60g unsalted butter, softened
- 85g golden caster sugar
- 70g dark muscovado sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 180g plain flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- Half a tsp of ground cloves
- ½ tsp salt
- 85g walnuts pieces
Preheat the oven to 180°C, and then grease a pudding dish. A round one at about 20cm diameter worked for me. Quarter the medlars (you’ll need around 300g worth of bletted medlars) and pop in a pan with a couple of tablespoons of water. Allow to cook for about 30 minutes or until the medlars collapse easily. Whilst your medlars are cooking you can move on to make the sauce. Heat all the sauce ingredients gently in a pan until the butter has melted, then turn the heat up to the boil and let it cook for 5 minutes- keep stirring it to stop it burning, and take it off the heat when the sauce coats the back of a spoon well. Pour just over half of the sauce into the dish, allow to cool and pop in the fridge, so the sauce gets a little stickier. Whilst it’s cooling, you can make the sponge and pull the medlars. Squash the medlars, then push through a sieve to take out their hard seeds. To make the sponge, beat the sugars and butter, then add in the eggs, one and a time and beat until combined. Stir in the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, cloves and salt until incorporated. Thoroughly stir in the medlar pulp and the walnuts. Spoon the sponge mix into you’re chilled pudding dish, on top of the sauce and bake for 30 minutes. Take it out, and turn on the grill. Make holes in your sponge just large enough to allow sauce to soak in – and pour over the rest of the sauce. Grill for just roughly 5 minutes or until the sauce is bubbling on top. Sever with whatever delicious creamy thing you fancy.