Caryn Hibbert

The Ingredient Edit: The Medlar

by Caryn Hibbert The Land 1 Nov 15

Forgotten Fruits

The medlar, so popular in the late harvests of the middle ages to the end of the nineteenth century, is today largely forgotten in the West, perhaps it is the bletting process that has meant it has fallen from favour with modern sensibilities. Our own garden designer, Bunny Guinness writes in The Daily Telegraph that "In Iran, where they originate, bletted medlars are sold at markets and eaten as a fresh fruit. Here we take bletted to mean slightly rotten but, like a pear, many varieties are hard when picked and take a few days to soften for eating. With the medlar, the outside of the fruit changes from green to form brown patches in November. This is the time to pick, to avoid damage on picking. Put them in a fruit bowl and they will go brown within days. Then you suck out the inside."

Bunny says, 'I chose Medlars for Thyme, as they link the heritage of the farmhouse, the historic orchards and the cookery school & food philosophies at Thyme.  They are beautiful trees, with perfect scale together with a long period of interest - flowers, fruit & autumn colour, as well as a beautiful and elegant form.'

Growing our own vegetables and fruit means that we have the freshest and most seasonal produce in all our food. Hand in hand with this is the challenge of gluts. You want just a few but there are barrow loads of apples, pears, peas or beans. No end of crumbles will deal with the problem, preserving by drying, bottling or juicing swings into action and then there are of course the pigs when all else fails. Our new piglets are a continual delight, always very happy to see us, squealing and chasing around in exuberant circles and fighting over every last scrap. Never however, has a glut been received with so much excitement as that of our newly planted medlar orchard. Planted two years ago, the crop this year was exceptional, in fact, emergency picking operations had to be instigated as the wind started to blow and winter started calling in mid October. The branches were so laden they were about to resign to inevitable disaster, their boughs gracefully, doomed and forlorn, drooping to the ground. Fortunately, they sprang back to their happy perky selves as soon as they were relieved of the barrow loads of fruit.

Delighted London restaurants and our local vegetable supplier were very eager to take them all, we let a few go and the whip was cracked in the kitchen to pickle, preserve and pot. This is a beautiful fruit, we have preserved them whole and they will be delicious served with bread and cheese for a hearty snack in The Baa. The great thing about working so closely with the land is that you don't need to look far for inspiration. On the walk to the vegetable gardens the hedgerows are laden with wild rosehips, combined with the medlar they have made the most delicious jelly as well as a syrup for cocktails.