Beca Lyne-Pirkis on the merits of medlars
As the first frost sprinkles across our gardens and windscreens, the close-of-seasonal native fruit is nigh. Sloes and medlars are two of the last homegrown heroes to ripen in our hedgerows before winter arrives to halt Mother Nature in her steps.
Blackthorn—or ‘sloes’ as they’re more commonly known—are small, dark purple sour berries. Best eaten cooked or preserved, they’re the key ingredient in the hunter’s favourite tipple, sloe gin. Alternative recipes include sloe wine and sloe whisky, while outside of the liqueur cabinet these little wild plums make delicious jelly, jam and syrup, which can be used in baking to flavour cakes, add punch to pies, or as the perfect accompaniment to cheese.
Having made sloe gin a few times, I can wholeheartedly recommend making some to keep you warm over the coming months—or of course give away a couple of bottles as homemade gifts at Christmas.
The dog’s backside
Medlars are rather medieval in appearance and are known as the ‘dog’s backside’ in French—charming, I know—due to the way the ‘bottom’ of the fruit gathers in a rather peculiar way. Some say they’re rather ugly looking, but I think it’s just because it’s an unfamiliar fruit compared to what we’re used to eating these days.
Medlars tend to be less straight forward than sloes to cook with, as once picked medlars need to mature or be left until they’ve bletted before they can be used, which can take around two to three weeks. Many reference books and websites describe bletting as leaving the fruit to rot, which I believe puts many people off, which is a shame—I’d rather say that you need to let this hardy fruit soften or ripen in order for the flavours to develop.
Once bletted, medlars tend to be turned into a jelly and served with cheese and cold meats, however roasting and scooping out the flesh allows you to use the fruit in more exciting ways. Simply roasting the fruit and serving it warm with some cream is a simple way of enjoying it, and allows you to fully appreciate flavour.
Earthy and fragrant
The smells floating around my kitchen as the medlars roast reminds me of many other fruits being baked, like a gooseberry crumble or a rhubarb tart, and the taste isn’t too dissimilar either—sour yet pleasant, earthy and fragrant, much like when you open a jar of mixed spice.
Use the puree to create a rich alternative fruit cake or as a jam for a frangipane tart. I also found a delicious-sounding recipe for medlar mincemeat, which is a great way of preserving the fruit as an alternative to turning it into a jam or a jelly. When adding other ingredients to a medlar recipe, be sympathetic and don’t overpower it with heaped teaspoons of spices—add just enough to enhance and complement, allowing this almost forgotten fruit to be the jewel in the crown.
Read Beca’s recipe for medlar couronne