Perhaps it is medlars’ unusual appearance with a strange hole at one end, or the fact that they are not eaten until they’ve gone rotten, that explains why most people have never tried a medlar. Medlars are a long-forgotten fruit in British kitchens, despite the fact they are still widely grown as ornamental trees.
It wasn’t always so. They were probably brought to this country by Romans and were widely celebrated in Britain until the 19th Century. Medlars are mentioned by Shakespeare and Georgian diners enjoyed them at the end of an evening with a glass of port. But they fell out of favour in the 1900s, replaced by fruits which are easier to transport and prepare.
That is until Jane Steward became intrigued by growing and cooking with medlars. Jane set about researching old recipes. Her ambition is to revive this delicious and neglected fruit, creating a national collection at her family’s six-acre smallholding in North Norfolk. They already have over 100 trees and plan to introduce more varieties soon.
Back in chilly February, when the mellowness of autumn fruits seemed long ago, Jane arrived at Lawson’s to introduce herself, her medlars and the medlar preserves she has recently started making on her Aga at home - the results of all her research into how to use the fruit. At Eastgate Larder, named after her home, Jane is producing a medlar jelly, and a medlar fruit cheese made from the highly concentrated pulp.
While we sampled her preserves, Jane told me more about medlars. They grow well in East Anglia because of the dry conditions. The fruit is left on the trees until the first frosts in November where it starts to decay. Then the fruit needs to be “bletted” or allowed to transform from pale green firm flesh into the rich dark pulp which makes them edible. Jane puts her medlars on trays in a cool place for a number of weeks.
We are thrilled to be selling Eastgate Larder medlar preserves here at Lawson’s. The 100g jars, and gift box of two 65g jars are beautifully presented with a drawing of the medlar fruits nestled amongst their leaves on the label. They are made with local sugar and only natural pectin from lemon juice. The medlar jelly is lovely with soft cheese, served with game or other rich meat or just as a condiment. The fruit cheese goes perfectly on a cheese board with both hard and soft cheese. Jane tells me some people just like to spread it on toast!
We are also very excited to have inspired Jane to develop a new way of presenting her fruit cheese, like a classic Spanish membrillo (quince paste) - a classic pairing with salty cheese or charcuterie. Eastgate Larder’s new Medlar Cheese loaves sit in our cheese counter and have been a huge success with our customers who love its taste and texture.
If you’re intrigued by medlars and would like to try Eastgate Larder’s preserves, then Jane will be with us at Lawson’s on Bank Holiday Monday, 1st May. Come along, meet the maker and taste her delicious medlar products!
To find out more about Eastgate Larder visit their website >