medlarsMedlar (Mespilus germanica)

“The flavor of the medlars tastes a little bit like autumn leaves with hints of cloves and cinnamon…. It’s a really different taste, unusual, not sweet. I am falling in love with it.”
Karen Klemens of Mother Moo Creamery.

At the Fruit Forest we grow Dutch Medlars and Nottingham Medlars. They are available in May from our favourite fresh food outlets on the Mornington Peninsula.

What is a medlar?

It‘s  a small deciduous tree in the rose family (Rosaceae). In fact, medlar fruits resemble gigantic rosehips. The fruit is rather small and the colour ranges from rosy rust to nutmeg brown.

Medlars are native to Southwestern Asia and Southeastern Europe. They were enjoyed by the Greeks and Romans, doted on by Victorians and mentioned by Shakespeare. Historically, King Henry VIII used to love eating medlar tarts at state banquets. They are still popular in their native lands, such as Iran and Turkey. However, they’re almost unknown in western countries these days, probably because –
a) They have to be eaten when they have gone very soft. The softening process is called “bletting” and it’s similar to the way you have to wait for Hachiya persimmons to soften before you can eat them.Some people think soft, ripe medlars have gone rotten – but this is not the case!

b) Because medlars have to be eaten when bletted, they either have to be eaten straight off the tree or picked early and put aside for a few weeks to blet. Then, when they’re finally bletted, they’re have to be eaten immediately. There’s not a huge window of edibility. This level of accuracy just doesn’t suit our industrial food distribution system.

It’s really worth getting over the squashy look of ripe medlars and tasting them. They are very good to eat. Some people describe them as tasting like really good apple butter, with delicate notes of cinnamon, vanilla, cider, or wine. The flesh resembles apple-and-cinnamon cinnamon paste. They have a few large seeds that you have to suck clean and spit out later. It’s worth it, though. Or, you can cook with them.

Medlar Jelly Recipe – from B L Walton.

Medlar jellies are delicious conserves to eat with sweet and savoury dishes.

  • Wash the medlar fruit if necessary, remove leaves and debris, cut them in half or roughly chop and put them into a large casserole, cover with water and simmer until soft – about an hour.
  • Put a muslin or jelly bag over a large bowl or casserole and spoon in the mixture and juice. Tie up the muslin bag securely with a good length of string, press out as much juice into the bowl as you can.
  • Work out how you can suspend your muslin full of pulp over the bowl and leave over night. I tied mine onto the handle of the top row of kitchen cupboards and set my bowl on the work surface below to catch the drips. You might have to use your ingenuity.
  • Next day squeeze out as much of the remaining juice as you can. Save the pulp and use it for something else – I made it into a medlar cheesecake, see the link below for the recipe.
  • Strip or grate the zest of the lemon(s) and squeeze out the juice. Take the rind from your lemon(s). I like to use a zester that makes the rind into little, thin ribbons – you can see them in my photo of the medlar jelly at the top of this article. If you don’t have one, use a potato peeler and then slice the pieces into thin strips with a sharp knife.
  • Squeeze the juice from your lemon(s)
  • Put the lemon rind and juice, medlar juice, sugar into the jam pan. (You can add the vanilla, if you’re using it, at the end), bring to the boil stirring until the sugar is dissolved and then boil rapidly until setting point, around 10 minutes but advice ranges from 2 minutes to 40 minutes so test regularly. Finding the setting point is the most difficult part – I use the ‘forming a skin’ test). I put a little onto a cool plate and push it with a finger; setting point is reached when it wrinkles a bit. Using a jam thermometer the temperature should be 220 – 221°F.
  • Put into sterilized jars (you can do this in the oven, I use a microwave but my friends think that putting through the dishwasher on a hot setting is sufficient). I use a jam funnel and ladle for this.
  • If you like you can then label and date your jams, decorate them with fancy paper or materials. Medlar jelly would make a good gift.

Medlar Cheesecake Recipe – from B.L. Walton.

A great dessert idea, a medlar cheesecake is unusual and seasonal. If you’re lucky enough to find medlars and you’ve made medlar jelly, you’ll be left with all the medlar pulp. Don’t waste it – turn it into medlar cheesecake. No time or inclination to make medlar jelly? Then simply follow the steps in the medlar jelly recipe to cook the fruit, then press out the juice through a sieve. (Drink the juice chilled – it’s delicious!) This cheesecake recipe will still work if your pulp is not as dry as the pulp left over from medlar jelly. You’ll need about a kilogram of medlars to make the cheesecake, but the quantity isn’t critical.

Cooking time
Prep time: 30 min
Cook time: 45 min
Ready in: 1 hour 15 min
Yields: Serves 8 – 10

•    3 – 4 table spoons medlar pulp
•    200 grams mascarpone or cream cheese
•    3 large eggs
•    1 level teaspoon vanilla essence
•    zest and juice of one lemon
•    1 tablespoon plain flour
•    2 tablespoons sugar. Add extra to taste
•    For the biscuit base –
•    200g biscuits such as digestives
•    75g butter

Tools and utensils
You will need the following kitchen tools and utensils:
•    A large casserole with lid
•    A large bowl
•    A large sieve
•    A wooden spoon
•    An oven proof flan dish (approx. 25cm / 10″ diameter)
•    Basin and tablespoon
•    Kitchen scales

Place the medlar pulp, cream cheese, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice and vanilla essence into a large mixing bowl, then add the beaten egg and flour
1.    Wash and halve, or roughly chop, your medlars. Take off any large stalks or leaves but don’t bother to peel.
2.    Cover them with water and gently simmer until soft – for about an hour.
3.    Strain off the water and press out any excess liquid.
4.    Put the pulp, a bit at a time, into the sieve and press through with the back of a spoon (see the Medlar Jelly recipe for pictures and more details of how to do this). Discard the skins and pips.
5.    Put about 3 – 4 tablespoons of pulp into a large mixing bowl and add the cheese, sugar and vanilla essence.
6.    Beat the eggs and then add them little by little to the medlar pulp and cheese mixture. Sprinkle the flour and mix this in at the same time.
7.    For the base – melt the butter in a pan, crush the biscuits and add to the melted butter and press the mixture into the base of the flan dish.
8.    Spoon the medlar and cheese mixture over the base.
9.    Put into a preheated oven at Gas mark 4, 180° C or 350° F and bake for about 40 minutes or until the top is just firm to the touch.

You could garnish the cheesecake with a medlar fruit (keep a few and perhaps use some halves) and a slice of fresh tangerine or crystalized orange or lemon rind.
Sprinkle the top with sieved icing sugar, just before serving.

You can also make medlar paste (cheese) and medlar ice-cream.