Exotic fruits in winter: medlars and kumquats

December 24, 2009 § Leave a comment

The first proper frost arrived earlier this month which meant it was finally time to gather the first tiny crop of medlars from the tree we planted the summer before last.   Jane Grigson writes about the medlar in her “Fruit Book” as follows.  “The medlar makes a charming tree in the garden.  It grows and droops over to make a sheltered house for children to play in.  In spring, the flowers are white spreading cups. In autumn the leaves turn a deep yet brilliant red, and fall to show the greenish brown medlars displaying their ancient name.  Pick them when they begin to turn soft and darker brown, and do not despise the windfalls.  The best can be eaten as they are.  Turn the others into medlar jelly.”  She is quite right – the medlar has so far proved to be an excellent small tree though not yet large enough to droop into the sheltered house for children she refers to.

Amusingly, the ancient descriptive English name for the medlar is openarse (similarly cul de chien in French)  You will understand why we politely refer to it as the medlar now (nèfle in French).

Here are my medlars, silhouetted against a palest blue wintry sky.

As the crop was so tiny and as I’ve never eaten them before, I decided the only thing to do was to eat the medlars, now yieldingly soft (the proper term is bletted) au naturel with a teaspoon.  I arranged them artfully on a plate with some other seasonal items to form a cut-down version of the 13 desserts of Provence (for an explanation see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirteen_desserts)

I took my first mouthful rather nervously but needn’t have worried as they tasted rather good – like stewed apple with a fudgy texture and pleasant acidity.  A small glass of tawny port and a few walnuts were the perfect accompaniment.  The 5 or so large seeds each fruit contains were unexpected but easily dealt with.

Other ideas for medlars are the jelly recipe which Jane Grigson gives and stewed medlars/compote of medlars which is the only suggestion given in Larousse Gastronomique.

I lazily popped one of the kumquats on the above platter into my mouth expecting an aromatic little sweetmeat.  I nearly spat the thing out.  Aromatic it certainly was but sour and bitter too in equal measure.  Referring back to my trusty Jane Grigson Fruit Book I discovered that she recommends coating them in fondant to make a tart, sweet and crisp petit four. She also gives a recipe for pickled kumquats with orange slices which I though might go well with the wild duck I was planning to roast for Sunday dinner.  Here are the duck (plus two brace of partridge) which my hunter gatherer husband Tim brought back from  a day’s shooting at Carlton Towers in Yorkshire in the autumn.  He cleaned and plucked them too and they have been waiting in my freezer for their moment to shine ever since.

I made the pickle and we ate it the same day with the duck notwithstanding that it is meant to mature for at least a month before you eat it.  The recipe is given below.

Unsurprisingly, the pickle was rather sharp!  The flavour of the kumquats was definitely right with the wild duck but it was too sweet and sharp in this pickle.  The pickle would however be very good with Christmas ham.

If anyone has any kumquat or medlar recipes I would love to hear them.

As a final postscript, peeking into my Christmas stocking I see that my sister-in-law Angela who lives in Bristol has given me, quite by coincidence, a jar of stewed medlars. I would guess that these were sourced from her local farmer’s market – I’m looking forward to trying them.

Recipe for pickled kumquats with orange slices

From Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book

My own suggestion is that fragrant clementine slices can be substituted for orange slices very successfully.

For each 250g (8oz) kumquats, provide one large orange (or 3 small clementines) which has been well scrubbed.  The kumquats only need rinsing.

Slice away and discard the peel ends of the orange, then cut the rest into slices and put them in a wide pan with the kumquats and enough water to cover generously.  Bring to simmering point, and leave until the orange slices are tender.  If the kumquats show signs of over-cooking and collapse, remove them.

Meanwhile dissolve 300g (10 oz) sugar in 250 ml (8 fl oz) wine vinegar.  Add a 5 cm (2 inch) cinnamon stick, 8 whole cloves and 2 blades of mace.  Once the liquid is clear and reaches boiling point, stop stirring.

Drain the cooking liquor from the oranges and kumquats into a bowl.  Pour the syrup onto them, adding enough cooking liquor to cover the fruit.  Simmer until the orange slices look transparent and slightly candied, adding extra cooking liquor as required.

Arrange the fruit in a wide glass jar, rinsed and dried upside down in a low oven.  Cut the slices in two, three, four if you like.  Pour on the boiling vinegar syrup, making sure that the fruit is covered.  Fasten the lid tightly and leave in a cool dark place for at least a month to mature.

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