Rachel Lambert: forager, author, guide

How to use Medlars

Bletted medlars from a foraging course

Medlars are a Medieval fruit - cultivated since the Roman times (8th century). They are native to Iran, Southwest Asia and Southeast Europe, especially around the Black Sea; Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey. I've come across them planted in gardens, sometimes very traditional gardens that are several centuries old.

An unusual looking fruit, some call them ugly which explains their nickname; open-arse or monkey's bottom. Perhaps for this reason they are misunderstood and underused. In this blog I explain how (and why) to use medlars.

A member of the rose-family (Rosaceae), medlars are related to rosehips. Medlar, or common medlar (Mespilus germanica) is thought to be closely related to Eriobotrya japonica which is sometimes known as Japanese medlar. Below are images of medlars and Japanese rosehips (Rosa rugosa).

All about Medlars

This forgotten fruit has a natural sweetness, when ripe they have an almost caramel flavour and a very mild sourness like apple sauce. Nutritionally medlars contain a good amount of carbohydrate, and a significant amount of iron, calcium, fibre, vitamin C and B1. But how can you use them?

Making medlar puree for desserts

Can you eat medlars raw?

You can eat medlars raw, but the fruit needs to be soft and almost rotting (bletted). When ripe, the fruits are brown and the flesh is mushy. It's even the colour (as well as the flavour) of caramel. You can squidge the fruit and eat the innards from your fingers, or peel the fruits and eat them that way. Though before they are ready to eat the fruit need to be bletted. The flavour is reminiscent of quince, caramel, apple sauce and for me, dried black apricots, soaked and pureed.

What is Bletting?

Bletting is the process of ripening until over-ripe and almost fermenting. This gives them a wonderful flavour too. Bletting happens naturally after a couple of frosts, though the fruits are often picked under-ripe and can be left outside for a couple of weeks, until they soften. They can also be left in a box indoors, though the process may take a little longer.

When the fruits are under-ripe they are yellow-ish in colour and hard. As they blet the colour will darken, yet the need to darken completely. If they are partly yellow and hard, partly brown and soft they still need to blet a little more.

How to use Medlars

Traditionally medlars have been eaten raw and used to make jam and 'medlar cheese' which is a little like fruit curd. A jelly can also be made from the fruits and it can be used as a filling for pies.

Any fruits that are black inside or if the flesh is still white, should be discarded. The fruits also contain large pips, so I prefer to mash them through a sieve or fine colander and discard the pips (stones) this way. This will give you a lovely, smooth fruit puree which can be used raw or added to dishes.

How to make Medlar fruit puree

Take the skin off the bletted medlars - I half peel, half squidge and pull it off and discard. Discard any black or pale flesh. Place the brown flesh in a sieve or fine colander over a large bowl and press the flesh through with the back of a metal dessert spoon (I find this worked better than a larger wooden spoon). For ease, you may want to intermittently discard the pips and fibrous parts left in the sieve and remove the puree into a separate bowl. 1 kilo of medlars should yield about 500g of puree. Refrigerate and use within a few days or freeze for up to 3 months.

Recipes for Medlar Fruits

  • Raw Medlar Tart - a sugar-free, vegan, grain-free tart using the natural, unadulterated flavour of medlars
  • Medlar Muffins - warming and comforting muffins made with wholemeal flour
  • Medlar Jelly - a traditional jelly to lather on toast, have with sweet dishes or alongside game
  • Spiced Medlar and Orange Pie (coming soon)
  • Medlar Tart with Toasted Meringue (coming soon)
  • Mulled and Spiced Medlar Drink (coming soon)

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