What is a medlar? It sounds like a creature from the latest Harry Potter film. Few people have heard of these eclectic fruits, much less tasted them. They have fallen out of fashion over the past century, perhaps because they aren't very easy to eat. In centuries past, they were more common, with remnants strewn through English literature. Shakespeare alludes to medlars in "As You Like It," where he writes "...you'll be rotten ere you be half ripe, and that's the right virtue of the medlar." Before they can be eaten, they must be bletted, but what on earth does that mean? There are a few fruits that are terribly astringent in their immature stages, most of them are Asian fruits like the durian, loquat, hachiya persimmons and hawthorns. The flesh must be completely mushy before that astringency is transformed into sweetness and acidity.
Tremaine Arkley sells his quince to Park Kitchen, and we ended up in a conversation about medlars, which his wife planted after reading about them in a Victorian novel. He gave me twenty five pounds of fruits to develop recipes this year. Once the medlars have bletted, they are very soft and oozing with clear juices. They have a very large seed pod and thick skins, much like rose hips. In fact, it was a thought about rose hips that brought the medlars to my door. I was watching the squirrels in my back yard as they foraged for food. They were nibbling on the rose hips, high in vitamin c and other nutrients. Suddenly, I thought of our conversation about the medlars, and I pictured birds and squirrels feasting on them in the trees. I called Tremaine right then, who had forgotten about our conversation. He rescued the harvest for my cooking.
I have stewed the medlars into a paste, which can then be used for a number of applicatioins both savory and sweet. I've made some medlar frangipane for apple tarts, and simmered the paste with bourbon to make a glaze for braised pork belly. I just put up a batch of medlar bourbon as well, a simple infusion of quartered fruits, sugar a split vanilla bean and bourbon. It should be ready for tasting by New Year's Eve. Come and taste a forgotten fruit.