It is surprising that the fruit of the medlar tree, thought to be cultivated for 3000 years throughout Southern Europe and Asia, could be so completely forgotten. Medlars are a strange fruit, looking a first glance like rose hips but with an unappealing brown colour and a hard, inedible interior. What is even more surprising is how these little uglies can be transformed into a beautiful, glowing, ruby red jelly. With a slightly savoury flavour, medlar jelly is delicious on toast but also goes well with curd cheese, roast meats and game and is a great addition to sauces and gravy. To get your hands on some you have to know someone with a tree or be lucky like me and stumble upon them at the Collingwood Children’s Farm Farmers Market.
Once you collect the little blighters you have to place them on a single layer somewhere cool and wait a few weeks until they are soft and brown inside and almost look rotten (called bletting). As they seldom soften at the same time, collect the soft ones, rinse them, cut them into quarters and freeze.
- 1kg medlars (bletted)
- 1 green apple, roughly chopped with cores
- 1/2 lemon
- 400g sugar
Rinse and quarter or halve the medlars, depending on their size, and put them in a large pot with the apple and the lemon half. Cover with water and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and let it cook at a low boil for 45 minutes. Line a colander with several layers of cheesecloth or an old tea towel, set it over a deep bowl, and ladle the cooked medlars and the liquid into the lined colander. Let it strain undisturbed for an hour or two. Important: Do not press down on the cooked fruit to extract more juice from it or your jelly will be cloudy.
Don’t be disheartened by the colour and its similarity to that perfume you made for mum when you were little; it will be transformed before your eyes. Pour the strained brownish liquid into a large pot, heat it and add the sugar stirring to dissolve. Gently boil the jelly until it reaches setting point (anything from 25-45 minutes). To test the jelly, put a spoonful on a chilled plate, once cold, it should wrinkle when you push it with your finger. Sterilise some clean jam jars and lids with boiling water and drain. Carefully ladle or pour the jelly into the clean jars up to 4 mm from the top of the jar. The jelly will keep for up to one year in the refrigerator. Alternately, you can preserve them for storage at room temperature by placing the sealed jars in a deep pot, completely covering with boiling water and boiling for 10 minutes. Remove and cool, during which time a vacuum will develop to seal in the lids.