Remnants of Autumn

From Ngaire’s journal, 10th June 1956

This afternoon Gerald, Warwick and I went on to the Cashmere Hills. It was lovely to have an outing after being at home for so long.  It was rather hazy over the Plains.  Crowds of people had taken advantage of the sunny day.”

Canterbury Plains from Cashmere Hills, Doris Lusk, 1952

Canterbury Plains from Cashmere Hills, Doris Lusk, 1952

A week or so ago I spent a few days at a writing retreat in a cottage near Lancefield. The nights were freezing, but the days were beautiful with brilliant sunshine and clear blue skies.  The last of the autumn leaves were hanging on and, on one tree, so were some large rosehip-like fruit which Rob (the caretaker) identified as medlars.

Medlar jellyA member of the rose family and originating in the Middle East, medlars are supposed to have been popular in mediaeval England and Europe.  Less romantically, they were known as ‘open arse fruit’ due to their appearance.  Ngaire wouldn’t have been impressed.

It seemed a shame to leave them to the birds and possums so I picked the last of them and promised Rob a jar of whatever I could produce.  That turned out to be a very pretty jelly, with a flavour that you can’t quite place.  As with quince jelly and paste, medlar jelly is delicious with cheese and meat.

I started with Jamie Oliver’s recipe, but added some rosemary and a little more lemon. The key thing to know about medlars is that they must be bletted (allowed to rot) before cooking or eating.  That explains why the local wildlife hadn’t finished them off.

Medlar Jelly

Bletted medlars (lay out in a carton or tray and leave in a cool place until they turn soft and brown)
About 1kg sugar (see below for exact amount)
Peel and juice (no pulp) of 1 lemon
Lemon pips and decent sprig of rosemary tied in muslin.

Rinse the medlars then halve and place in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cover with cold water, bring to the boil then simmer until soft.  This takes about 1 hour.
Pour the mixture into a jelly bag and hang over a large bowl.  Leave overnight to allow the liquid to drip through.
The next day, measure the extracted liquid and pour into a clean heavy-bottomed saucepan.
Add 220 g sugar for every 300ml of juice, then the lemon and the muslin bag containing the pips and rosemary.
Bring to the boil and boil rapidly for about 12 – 20 minutes. Test for setting by spooning a little on a chilled saucer. Don’t boil for too long or it will be too firm.
Carefully pour into sterilised jars while hot. Cover and leave to cool before screwing on the lids.

By the way, if you’d like to know more about the Doris Lusk painting I recommend Cheryl Bernstein’s blog.

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