November - Preservation Orders Part II

MEDLAR MALARKEY

Bring out your inner Tudor with this recipe for medlar jelly for use in gravies and glazes or just as it is on toasted crumpets.

medlar fruitFor Part the Second of this autumn's Preservation Orders (Part I here), I'm indebted to fellow-member Mr Geoffrey Ing whose daughter made him a present of a medlar sapling. After some vintages en blanc as it were, it surprised him with a robust crop of the curious fruit, and he very kindly brought a bag of it to Stevenage last year for my delectation.

He had done his homework too. Before being usable, medlars must be bletted, that is to say, allowed to mature, either on the tree until the first frosts strike (eismedlars, one presumes!), or in a cool, dark place until they become brown, soft, withered and, frankly pretty unappetising. As Chaucer's Reeve tells his fellow-pilgrims to Canterbury, though in the context of the human condition rather than home preservation, 'til we be roten kan we nat be rype'.

Having said that, as the rot sets in, the pectin level, which is woefully low in medlars, drops yet further and if your preserve is to have a hope of setting properly, it's essential to have a proportion of unbletted fruit in the mix. Thank you Mr Ing for a perfectly balanced consignment, suggesting a painstaking combination of staggered harvesting and expert triage and enabling me to achieve a first - home-made medlar jelly for Christmas.

Medlars were, as you might say, flavour of the month during the reign of Elizabeth I and next time you make a pilgrimage to The Society, you might go and inspect one in the gardens of Hatfield House, custodian of all things Elizabethan. The house is splendid, and well worth a pilgrimage in its own right, though be careful who you take along.

I vividly recall accompanying a party of Spanish wine-growers on a guided tour of the building before a Society tasting and dinner in the grounds many years ago. Having admired a collection of armour impounded from sundry invaders, and visited the library, a veritable cradle of Tudor history, my señores were told in no uncertain terms by our historically if not diplomatically correct guide what a complete and utter pushover the Spanish Armada was.

I was about to take refuge in being Welsh, always handy on these tricky English occasions, until I remembered the origins of the Tudors. Luckily for our 150-odd waiting members, our growers saw the funny side and, unlike the Armada, stayed for supper.

Owing to their curious appearance as much as the rotting requirement, medlars have always suffered from negative PR. Rude names for them range from the French cul de chien to the only marginally less genteel open ers of Middle English and they often crop up in unflattering metaphors. The most terminally graphic description of a medlar I've come across yet is D H Lawrence's 'wineskins of brown morbidity, autumnal excrementa' with 'an exquisite odour of leave-taking'!

None of this nonsense should put you off. Medlar jelly is a glorious affair, a rich golden-pink in colour, like old brocade, but bright and clear, with a haunting bouquet of honeyed fruit and a whiff of roses. Delicious on toast or, better yet, buttered crumpets, it also adds piquancy and subtle sweetness to a game jus or gravy.

There are a number of recipes online, from such luminaries as Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Nigel Slater, so by all means choose your own tried and trusted pillar of TV chefdom and do exactly what he tells you. Personally, when faced with an unfamiliar fruit, I favour the consensus approach, reading everything I can find on the subject for a comprehensive collection of useful tips and a well-reinforced set of key principles.

Firstly if you are doing your own bletting, do store the fruit in one layer or it will properly rot. An unused kitchen drawer (not under the cooker) or a shallow tray in a cool, dark pantry are ideal containers. How long it takes to achieve perfection depends on how ripe/recently it was harvested. It could take a few weeks. Keep an eye on it and discard any visibly mouldy fruit.

Perversely, after all that, 20-25% of your fruit weight should be unbletted. If this isn't possible, boost the pectin content by doubling the quantity of apples and lemons in the recipe. Next, only use as much water as you need just to cover the fruit in the initial boil or you risk diluting that precious pectin.

Finally, and very importantly, gently does it. Leave the fruit alone while it's cooking and let the juices strain slowly and naturally, unforced and unpressed, rather like the free-run cuvée that makes the best Champagne.

Use your jelly to add a bit of sweetness to the cooking juices of goose or pheasant. Another lovely idea is to use it as a glaze for an apple tart instead of the more usual apricot jelly. In either case, wine-wise, I'd pick out a subtly spicy white - the rose-scented notes of a gewürztraminer, perhaps, sweet or dry as appropriate. A muscat would work too, or any light dessert wine with elements of honey and spice.

Or why not just butter some toast lavishly, pile on your medlar jelly and bring out your inner Tudor?

Janet Wynne Evans

MEDLAR JELLY

Makes 2 x 450g jars

  • 1kg well-bletted medlars (dark brown and squishy)
  • 250g unripe medlars (yellow and hard)
  • 1 Granny Smith or other very sharp apple, roughly chopped
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 800g preserving sugar

medlar fruitNote: We're often urged by sensible and thrifty kitchen gurus to use ordinary granulated sugar rather than paying the premium for preserving or jam sugars. However, one of the things you are paying extra for is added pectin, and in this case, my view is that every little helps.

Trim the medlars of leaves and horny bits and rinse well. Cut in half, or quarters if very large. Put them in a preserving pan or wide, deep saucepan with the apples and add just enough cold water to cover. 1.5 litres should be plenty but pour it in carefully and stop immediately the fruit is barely submerged.

Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer very gently for about an hour until everything is soft and pulpy. Resist any temptation to stir or mash it constantly unless it's catching on the bottom of the pan. Avoid that by keeping an eye on the water level and adding a little more if needed. Check consistency after 45 minutes by removing one of the fruit with a slotted spoon and testing with the point of a knife.

Line a large sieve with a linen tea towel and place over a clean saucepan or mixing-bowl. If you have a proper jelly-bag, so much the better. Transfer the contents of the pan into it and leave the juices overnight to drip through.

Give the soggy bundle of pulp the very gentlest of squeezes to extract all available pectin before transferring the strained juice into a measuring-jug. You should have the best part of a litre of hauntingly lemony, rose-infused juice. If you have more, or it lacks concentration, put it back into a saucepan and boil it down until it bewitches you, as it should. If you have less but it tastes promising, just adjust the quantity of sugar proportionally in the next step. A good working ratio is 450g sugar to 600ml juice.

Now is the time to sterilise jars, tongs to handle them, a jam funnel and a small glass jug for filling the pots. Keep these hot in the oven while you put a couple of saucers in the freezer ready to test the set.

Return the juice to the pan and add in the sugar. Stir gently to dissolve, then boil hard until it hits 105?C on a jam thermometer. Spoon a small quantity on one of the chilled saucers, leave for a minute and test for set by nudging it with your finger. If it wrinkles gelatinously, that's a good sign. If it's still runny, boil for another 5 minutes and try again. You can repeat that just once more if necessary, but after that, just cross your fingers and pot it.

Pour into the sterilised jars, top with waxed discs and seal with cellophane pot-covers, secured tightly with elastic bands. Leave to cool completely - preferably overnight.

If, at that stage the jelly is hopelessly runny (as mine was), you can try emptying it into a clean pan with a tablespoon or so of extra sugar (not too much as it will make the jelly too cloying) and reboiling it until it again reaches 105°C on the thermometer - about 5 minutes or so. Somewhat tediously, you will have to resterilise your jars and potting paraphernalia, but I can report that it was worth the effort. The jelly was a lovely soft, but upstanding set. Had it not been, I would have had a lovely syrup at least!

When the jelly has cooled, put on the lids and labels. Stored in a cool, dark place, this will keep for several months.

MATCH OF THE DAY

Friendly:


Premier League:


Director's Box:

Members' Comments (0)

There are no comments for this article.
Society Promise
Members before profit
Awards

Our website uses cookies with the aim of providing you with a better service. By using this website you consent to The Wine Society using cookies in accordance with our policy.

Close

4.4. Cookie Policy

By using The Wine Society website, you agree to cookies being used in accordance with the policy outlined below. If you do not agree to this, you must alter your browser settings to turn off cookies or block those types which are unacceptable to you or cease using the website.

The Wine Society uses cookies to enable easy navigation and shopping on the website. We take the privacy of all who use our website very seriously and ensure that our use of cookies complies with current EU legislation. The following guide outlines what cookies are, the types of cookies used on The Society's website and how they work.

You may alter your browser settings to turn off cookies or block those types which are unacceptable to you, but this will cause difficulties when accessing and using some areas of the site. Instructions on how to do this can also be found below.

4.4.1. What are 'Cookies'?

  • Most major websites use cookies.
  • A cookie is a very small data file placed on your hard drive by a web page server. It is essentially your access card, and cannot be executed as code or deliver viruses. It is uniquely yours and can only be read by the server that gave it to you.
  • Cookies cannot be used by themselves to identify you.
  • The purpose of a basic cookie is to tell the server that you returned to that web page or have items in your basket. Without cookies, websites and their servers have no memory. A cookie, like a key, enables swift passage from one place to the next.
  • Without a cookie every time you open a new web page the server where that page is stored will treat you like a completely new visitor.
  • More recently, cookies have also been used to collect information about the user which allows a profile of their preferences and interests to be created so that they can be served with interest-based rather than generic information about available goods and services.

4.4.2. How do Cookies help The Wine Society?

Cookies allow our website to function effectively. Cookies also help us to arrange content to match your preferred interests more quickly. We can learn what information is important to our visitors, and what isn't.

4.4.3. How does The Wine Society use cookies?

The Wine Society does not accept advertising from third parties and therefore, as a rule, does not serve third-party cookies. Exceptions to this include performance/analytical cookies (see below), used anonymously to improve the way our website works, the provision of personalised recommendations, and occasions when we may team up with suppliers to offer special discounts on goods or services.

The Society uses technology to track the patterns of behaviour of visitors to our site.

4.4.4. What type of cookies does The Wine Society use?

We use the following three types of cookies:

4.4.4.1. Strictly Necessary Cookies
These cookies are required for the operation of our website, enabling you to move around the website and use its features, such as accessing secure areas of the website. Without these cookies, services like shopping baskets or e-billing cannot be provided. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Authentication Cookie and Anonymous Cookie
    These cookies remember that you are logged in to your account – without them, the website would repeatedly request your login details with each new page you visit during your time on our website. They are removed once your session has ended.
  • Session Cookie
    These cookies are used to remember who you are as you use our site: without them, the website would be unable to tell the difference between you and another Wine Society member and facilities such as your basket and the checkout process would therefore not be able to function. They too are removed once your session has ended.

4.4.4.2. Functionality & Targeting/Tracking Cookies
These cookies are used to recognise you when you return to our website and to provide enhanced features. This allows us to personalise our content for you. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Unique User Cookie
    This cookie is used to:
    • store your share number in order to identify that you have visited the website before. Without this cookie, we would be unable to tell whether you are a member or not.
    • record your visit to the website, the pages you have visited and the links you have followed. We use this information to make our website, the content displayed on it and direct marketing communications we may send to you or contact you about more relevant to your interests.
    • This cookie expires after 13 months.
  • Peerius Cookies
    These third-party cookies are used to provide you with personalised recommendations based on your purchase and browsing history. They expire within 4 hours of your visit.

4.4.4.3. Performance/analytical cookies
These cookies collect information about how visitors use a website, for instance which pages visitors go to most often, and if they get error messages from web pages. These cookies don't collect information which identifies a visitor. All information these cookies collect is aggregated and therefore anonymous. It is only used to improve how a website works. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Google Analytics Cookies
    These are third-party cookies to enable Google Analytics to monitor website traffic. All information is recorded anonymously. Using Google Analytics allows The Society to better understand how members use our site and monitor website traffic.

4.4.4.4. Authentication Cookie
In order for us to ensure that your data remains secure it is necessary for us to verify that your session is authentic (i.e. it has not been compromised by a malicious user). We do this by storing an otherwise meaningless unique ID in a cookie for the duration of your visit. No personal information can be gained from this cookie.

4.4.5. How do you turn cookies off?

All modern browsers allow you to modify your cookie settings so that all cookies, or those types which are not acceptable to you, are blocked. However, please note that this may affect the successful functioning of the site, particularly if you block all cookies, including essential cookies. For example, In Internet Explorer, go to the Tools Menu, then go to Internet Options, then go to Privacy. Here you can change the rules your browser uses to accept cookies. You can find out more in the public sources mentioned below.

4.4.6. Learn more about cookies

4.4.7. Changes to our cookie policy

Any changes we may make to our cookie policy in the future will be posted on the website and, where appropriate, notified to you by email. Please check back frequently to see any updates and changes to our cookie policy.