Medlars! I’d never heard of them.
A good friend of mine lives on a property outside of Goulburn with a lot of medlar trees. And the trees were laden with autumn fruit. She posted a picture of the subsequent abundant harvest on facebook and how she was going to turn them into medlar jelly which is excellent with roasts, especially pork.
I wrote a comment saying I would love to see how the jelly turned out (especially as the fruit looked particularly ugly).
She immediately posted a comment saying a few kilos were mine. She would organise to haul part of her harvest to Sydney.
Weeks went by. I thought she’d forgotten me. But then one day, Archie, after spending the day with Webb, my friend’s son, came through the door struggling with an enormous bag of medlars.
At first I thought they’d seen better days. A lot of them had turned brown and some were even mushy. And I didn’t want to seem ungrateful for my gift that I thought was headed for the bin.
But a little research on google and a reassuring voice mail from my friend, assured me all was well. These medlars are ugly, so ugly that in England they’re referred to as ‘dogs’ backsides’.
The key to dealing with a medlar is to pick the fruit when it is about to fall from the tree. If you have to yank it, then you picked it too soon. And once it’s picked, it needs to be left alone. Left on a flat tray in a single layer until it’s rotten.
That’s right, medlars need to be bletted. That’s a polite term for allowing them to soften and turn a brownish shade of more ugly. This process can take up to four weeks after they’ve dropped from the tree which is why my friend was in no rush to get her harvest to me in Sydney.
Then, when they’re brown and mushy, like an ugly duckling becoming a beautiful swan, you can turn these mushy brown medlars into a pretty, rosy-coloured jelly that is a wonderful gift and the perfect accompaniment to your next roast pork with crackle.
But medlars aren’t only ugly, they’re also tricky. Two kilos of medlars will give you medlar juice in a highly variable volume. And depending on the amount of pectin in that particular harvest, the boiling phase to reach the jellying stage can also vary. So making this jelly isn’t the product of reading a recipe well; you will have to be an intuitive cook and stand over the stove checking, weighing and guessing.
And there will be doubts. Doubts that the brown sludge will turn rosy pink and doubts that it will even set. But it does. And when it does you feel like leaping around your kitchen doing the a happy dance.
From 2kgs of medlars I made four small jars of medlar jelly that we’ll use for our weekly Sunday roasts as well as have a couple of jars put aside for gifts.
And what does the jelly taste like! Medlars are hard to describe as they have a flavour that is unique to them. They’re a little like a guava which is a tropical fruit and medlars are not grown in the tropics. The jelly is just like red currant jelly or cranberry jelly in that you know it pairs well with meats but with its own unique flavour. They are like a quince in that they are no good eaten straight from the tree and they’re unique in that they’re the last fruit to ripen before winter. Unique again in that they need to be bletted (rotted) before you can do anything with them and then there’s their taste. It’s difficult to describe a medlar because the taste is unique to this brownish fruit.
To make medlar jelly you need to start a day ahead. On Day One you make the medlar juice then overnight you strain the juice and in the morning you make the jelly. Another point is that you shouldn’t try to squeeze more juice from the muslin sack than has been drained as that will result in an unattractive cloudy jelly. Once the jelly has been poured into sterilised jars, it will last in the fridge for 12 months.
If you do have the good fortune to come across medlars, do make medlar jelly – you won’t be sorry that you did.
- 2kg medlars, bletted and halved
- sugar (varies) 450gms for every 600gms medlar juice
- 1 apple
- rind of half a lemon
- Rinse the medlars and halve them.
- Place in a big pot and cover with water.
- Bring to the boil and continue to simmer for around 60 minutes.
- 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.
- The next day pour the liquid into a large pot – you should have about 1 quart (1l). Put a small plate in the freezer. Add the sugar to the juice in the pot and cook the jelly until it reaches 220ºF (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.
- Ladle the jelly into sterilised jars.
- The jelly will keep in the fridge for 12 months.