This is the place to enjoy Christine's food-related musings – from seasonal food and food producers to cooking tools, food markets and gastro-travel. You'll also find some must-try recipes and invaluable tips and techniques.
Even more curious than the quince, the medlar is probably our oldest orchard fruit. Native to Persia, it dates back to the ancient Greeks and later was grown by the Romans who are thought to have brought it to Britain.
The fruits are about 5cm in diameter with greenish-brown skins and an unusually large open calyx at the base. The medieval writer Geoffrey Chaucer somewhat crudely called the fruit ‘openarse’ because of this distinctive feature. The French were similarly insulting with ‘cul de chien’ (dog’s bottom). Despite the bad-mouthing, Nicholas Culpeper, 17th-century astrologist/physician, was a medlar enthusiast. He rated the fruit “good to gargle the mouth, throat and teeth”, and as a remedy for a curious variety of complaints such as kidney stones, period pains and digestion problems.
Meldars are harvested in late autumn but are hard and inedible even when ripe. They become palatable only after a period of deliberate post-harvest decay known as ‘bletting’ during which the flesh becomes a soft orangey-brown. The Victorian bletting technique was to bury the fruit in sawdust, but I find storing them in a shallow bowl in a dry place for two or three weeks works well enough.
Despite the challenge of bletting, this ancient fruit appears to be back in favour. I hope those of you fortunate enough to own medlar trees, or have access to the fruit, will try my recipes. Medlar and Ginger Creams will have your guests guessing, as will my Spiced Medlar Tart with Walnut Pastry. Another must-try is Medlar and Rosemary Jelly. Medlar jelly is classic accompaniment to ham, cold roast turkey or goose. Thanks to a tip from my food writer colleague Hattie Ellis, a few rosemary sprigs make the jelly extra special.
© Christine McFadden, November 2022