The Forgotten Fruit: Medlar

As you may have read, we have teamed up with The Lost Gardens of Heligan, home to the Finest Productive Gardens in Britain, to celebrate Great Cornish food. This collaboration sees the best horticultural practises and heritage produce being showcased by our chef, in the heart of Cornwall. This November marked the start of this relationship and our Head Chef, Guy Owen, is using the much understated and almost forgotten, medlar fruit.

Heligan’s hardy ornamental Medlar Nottingham, sits proudly espaliered in the historical Melon Yard and boasts beautiful white blooms in late spring and early summer.  Its fruit is characteristically tart if eaten raw, but makes pleasantly flavoured jellies and can be used in desserts once fully ripe.

Medlar whose name originates in France, were a favourite of both the Greeks and the Romans but it was the Elizabethans and Victorians who were its biggest admirers. They aren’t the most attractive of fruit and owing to the fact the fruits should be allowed to rot before eating, it is no wonder why they fell out of favour among consumers.

Medlars tolerate most soils and do well as long as the soil is fertile and well drained. Their leaves and flowers are easily damaged in strong winds so a warm sheltered spot in full sun or partial shade is best; the Melon Yard a perfect example. Heligan’s medlar gets a good pruning in the winter, which helps to maintain a healthy shape and encourages good flowering and fruiting for the following season.

 

Medlars are commonly ready to pick in late October to early November, when they are about 1 to 2 inches in diameter; it should be noted that at this stage they are not fully ripe or palatable. The fruit can be left on the tree well into autumn to develop flavour and benefits from the first frost to aid ripening. Cornwall’s mild climate cannot guarantee the fruit receive this, therefore traditionally Heligan’s medlar are stored eye downwards in trays in their Apple Store.

The fruit’s flesh softens, turns brown and sweetens usually about two or three weeks after harvesting; this fermentation process is called bletting and was coined by the botanist John Lindley in 1848, around the time that the medlar was at the precipice of its popularity within society. Bletting allows the cell walls of the fruit to break down, converting starch into sugars and decreasing the acid and tannins, simply put- making a hard, bitter fruit into a sweet one.

 

Heligan’s medlar were harvested on the 7th November and spent the next two weeks in the ‘bletting stage’ in their Apple Store, before making their way over to our Head Chef, Guy Owen, who has now transformed them into a delicious jelly to accompany our locally sourced cheeses on our cheese board.  See Guy’s recipe for Medlar Jelly here.

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