Medlars are probably the least known, least used and least loved of our fruiting trees.
They are funny looking things; a cross between a very small russet apple and a brown rose-hip with five horny barbs surrounding the blossom end – no surprise because they, like apples and roses, are a member of the extensive Rosaceae family.
They are the last of the orchard/garden fruits to harvest and are rarely ready for eating, or to use, much before the end of November when they are ‘bletted’ – this is when the flesh is soft, squashy and rotting apple green (nice new paint colour). They may appear a little unappetising, but squeeze some some of that buttery flesh into your mouth and you’ll discover a taste not dissimilar to appley-dates with cinnamon tones – pretty tasty in fact. Unripe, they are mouth puckeringly tannic, and only for the acerbic. Medlars, even when fully ripe, are rich in pectin and are generally used for making jellies to serve with gamey things, or fruit cheeses to sit on a good cheese board and enjoy with a glass of Port.
A departure from the norm I like use them as a base for making festive mincemeat where their unique flavour and texture balances the sweetness of vine and other dried fruits.
MEDLAR AND PEAR MINCEMEAT – makes 2.5kg/ 6 x 400ml jars
Juice and the zest of 2 unwaxed oranges – about 200mls
150g dried pears, cut into 1cm pieces
150g dried figs, cut into 1cm pieces
150g golden granulated sugar
150g dark Muscovado sugar
600g Conference pears, 500g net, peeled, cored and cut into 1mm cubes.
2 teaspoons mixed spice
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons rose water
50-100m brandy, rum or sloe gin
Wash the medlars in cold water. Place them in a heavy based pan with 300ml water – give each medlar a little squeeze to break their skin as you put them in. Bring to the boil for 5-6 minutes crushing them with a wooden spoon or jam skimmer until the mixture is soft and creamy. Remove from heat. Rub the contents through a sieve or pass through a mouli – you should have just over 500g of puree.
Place the puree in a large ovenproof bowl or pan. Pile in the rest of the ingredient and mix thoroughly to combine. Cover the surface with a piece of baking parchment and set aside for 12-24 hours to allow the flavours to mix and the dried fruit to swell a little.
When ready to finish, preheat the oven to 140°C/Gas mark 1. Cover the pan or bowl loosely with a bit of foil, and bake for about 2 hours until very hot giving the mixture a good stir a couple of times. Remove from the oven, stir in most of the brandy, reserving a little to pour onto each filled jar – have a little taste and add any more spices if you think it needs some. Then spoon carefully into warmed jars tapping the jars on a work surface as you fill them to knock out any air pockets, before drizzling any remaining alcohol over the surface. Seal with a twist on lid and store in a dry, cool place until required. Use within 12 months.
Use to make mince pies and flans, or swirl a couple of tablespoons through a classic sponge cake mix for a light spiced fruity traybake.