Continuing my ocassional series on my favouirte forest garden trees, the Medlar (Mespilus germanica) has to score highly in my collection because it is a robust tree that needs little attention other than a regular annual prune. It has an aesthetic shape rather like a small apple tree and fruits reliably every year, whatever the weather throws at it. Even in our changeable English climate with deep snow in winter and hard frosts in late Spring when pears, damsons, figs, gages and plums have failed, my Medlar tree has produced undaunted.
Medlars are small self-fertile trees originally from southwest Asia and possibly also southeastern Europe. They are pretty trees that seem to be very tough, able to fruit even in the wettest of summers when even many of our apple varieties struggle. The fruit (above) looks like a cross between a small apple and a rosehip. They do not ripen on the tree and so you have pick them when still hard and let them 'blet', a softening process like a partial rotting.
Store them in sawdust or bran in a cool, dark place until they go soft and develop an aromatic flavour. You can eat medlars raw once bletted – they taste similar to an overripe apple – a rather acquired taste. You can also mix the pulp with honey and cream or eat plain, accompanied by port.
Medlar Curd & Medlar Wine
Traditionally, medlars are also turned into a 'curd' style of fruit cheese, where the strained pulp is cooked like lemon curd with eggs, butter and sugar. They can also be used for making a country wine that tastes rather like sherry. Simply add the bletted fruit to sugar and water plus a wine yeast and leave to ferment. I added pears as well, racked the brew and bottled it for two years. It was medium sweet with a very alcoholic taste and effect. I didn't test the specific gravity but it was like a very respectable sherry.
Perhaps the most popular recipe is medlar jelly. This one was kindly given to me by Pippa Wynn from Somerset.
2kg (4lbs) medlars
2.5 litres (4 pints) water
After the fruit has been left to go soft, wash it and place in a preserving pan with the water; simmer slowly until fruit is soft and mushy. Pour into a scalded jelly bag and allow the fruit to drip for a few hours. Do not push the fruit through or the finished jelly will be cloudy. Measure the strained juice into a preserving pan and add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to each 600ml (1 pint) of juice. Bring to the boil. To each 600ml (1 pint) of juice add 350g (12oz) sugar. Stir until dissolved. Return to the heat, bring to the boil and boil rapidly until setting point is reached. Remove any scum. Pour quickly into warmed jars, cover and label.