Medlars make marvellous chutney

YOU struggle to find a recipe for medlar chutney on the Internet and it’s not hard to see why. The pulp may taste sweet and lovely when you squeeze  it into your mouth but the pips!Since every fruit contains at least five sizeable pips it’s going to be a faff to sieve them out. And it is!
Making jelly is a cinch, you just turf the fruit in the pot, boil it up and the juice strains through the jelly bag later.It has crossed my mind to sieve the boiled pulp later for a chutney but I reckoned most of the flavour had gone into those little golden jars of jelly.But this year I collected so many medlars, about a couple of kilos, that I had a go. And once bletted and, without boiling them first into a solid, sticky mess, I could sieve out the pips without too much of a struggle.
You might find a little powdery blue mould on some of the fruit so either discard or nip off and, at any rate, give them a good rinse.Mind you, it took about 30 minutes hard work with a metal sieve and large spoon.
One medlar gives you 4-5g of pulp.
You’ll find it doesn’t easily fall through but has to be scraped off the underside.I got an aching wrist but I had about 600 grams of brown, sweet, sticky pulp to play with.For me, a ripe medlar ( the fruit is only edible when it has rotted or ‘bletted’) is a cross in flavour and texture between a date and fig. I have heard it compared to stewed apples. It’s the pips, which you spit out, which are the nuisance.But without cooking the fruit up first removing them was not that much to a struggle.Now dates and figs make very good chutneys and I had high hopes with this. I more or less made up the recipe as I went along, cutting back slightly on the sugar because there is so much in the pulp.
600g medlar pulp
600g apples
One medium onion, chopped finely
700mls malt vinegar
100g sultanas
2 tbs crushed coriander
1 tbs crushed mustard seeds
‘Thumb’ of fresh ginger
2 tbs garam masala
1 tsp chilli powder
900g sugar (see below)
All but the sugar was boiled up until mushy, adding a little extra vinegar from time to time if the mixture looked too thick (just simmer, don’t  boil fast). Then I added 900g of white granulated sugar, although brown would be even better.Cook on in the usual way until there is no surface liquid and you can see the bottom of the pan when stirring a spoon. Allow to cool slightly then put into warm, sterilised jars (I boil mine). I had eniugh to fill half a dozen variously sized jars.I am delighted with the result, worth the extra effort. It’s a sweet, rich, subtly spiced chutney which goes spectacularly well with cheese, especially blue.

Is it worth meddling with a medlar?

What do they look like to you?

I’M STILL not sure whether it was worth it. I’ve gone halfway across Sheffield to pick medlars – hard little brown fruit no one seems to have heard of – from trees and taken them home to rot in my cellar.

 Then I’ve boiled them up, strained the juices, added sugar and all I’ve got to show for it is two small measly jars. As for the taste, well, it’s fugitive. Perhaps I should have taken the hint for the common name for medlar is dog’s arse, as the French say, cul de chien.

You can’t eat a medlar until it rots, or blets, when it turns sweet. In ancient times, before oranges and grapefruit and fruit like that was available to the common man they were supposedly highly prized for their sugar hit in winter.

To eat them, peel back the outer casing, suck everything in then discreetly spit. For inside is a little ball of sweetish flesh encasing  large seeds you wouldn’t want to swallow. The taste and texture is midway between a fig and date. I picked some last year but lost interest after the first few moutfuls and they bletted to kingdom come.

The ones on the left have bletted

So this year I was going to make a jelly. My recipe, from Marguerite Patten’s ‘James, Preserves and Chutneys,’ said two pounds of medlars to a pint of water and I had just over that weight. I cut them up small and boiled them up. I was unsure if they would contain enough pectin and dislike adding the commercial variety so also chopped up a couple of Bramley apples.

They mushed up pretty quickly so they soon went into the straining bag for the afternoon. The liquid was dirty brown, like tea. Perhaps if I had left it overnight I might have got more juice – just a pint – which tasted pretty insipid.  I boiled it down a bit further to increase the flavour and added the juice of half a lemon – more to perk it up than for pectin.

Medlars with apples in the pan

It set on the second test but there wasn’t a lot of it, just enough for those two small jars. That brown brew cleared to a lovely whisky-type hue but medlar jelly doesn’t taste anything like eating one raw. The date-cum-fig effect has gone; instead it’s more like honey. I have just had some on a slice of bread and butter to confirm my impression.

It’s not been a complete waste of time but if I do it again next year I will need to pick many more pounds to make it worth the effort. Or I might combine it with other fruit. Dates or figs!

Medlar jelly – lovely colour and tastes like honey

Foraging for “autumnal excrementa”

IMG_0569 medlars 30-11-2017 12-50-20

Medlars. Remind you of anything?

I HADN’T been the first to spot the tree. Most of the fruit on the lower branches, right besides a footpath, had been stripped of fruit. But higher up there were still some I might get. I needed a long stick but there was an empty lager can discarded in the leaf litter. I took aim. Bull’s Eye! Two of them came tumbling down.

I’d noticed the medlar tree earlier in the year while foraging in a Sheffield park. Tiny brown fruit were on the branches but it was much too soon to pick them. They only ripen around November time. No wonder this was a medieval favourite in the days when fresh fruit all year round was impossibility.

Chaucer mentions them, and Shakespeare, not always kindly, and D H Lawrence, who had a thing about fundaments, wrote of “wineskins of brown morbidity, autumnal excrementa … an exquisite odour of leave taking”.

But the medlar has long fallen out of favour. In part, it’s its looks. It has the appearance of a greeny brown crab apple split open at the bottom into five crinkly segments. It resembles for all the world what leads the French to call them cul de chien, dog’s arse. But don’t let that put you off.

The medlar is only edible when it is ripe, that is beginning to rot or blet, so I made a mental note to come back in late autumn. It was on the last day of November that I went in search of the tree.


IMG_0573 inside a medlar 30-11-2017 15-21-02

Inside the medlar – squidgy with pips

One or two of the medlars had already bletted. I squeezed one gently onto my tongue. The nearest thing it smells and tastes like is apple. A very soft, squidgy apple. And the texture is somewhere between a slightly fibrous pear and a ripe fig, although without the latter’s graininess. And it was sweet. I can honestly say it was the best I’ve eaten because it was the first I’ve eaten. I also got a mouthful of pips. There are five. Enthusiasts declare that medlars are a fruit you either love or hate. I quite like them.

I’ve only got eight or nine and have already eaten a couple. The rest will go into the cellar, in the dark, to ripen. You can make fruit cheese, jam or jelly with them although I haven’t got enough so they will be an occasional treat. This has been my most exotic forage of the year. I’m waiting for my cellar to be full of that exquisite odour.