Mushy medlars make marvellous marmalade

A dreadful title I know, but once there were three words beginning with the letter ‘m’, I just couldn’t stop myself. In fact I’ve made jelly, not marmalade, from some medlars that I gathered last month. The reason that I have even attempted to do anything with the fruit was due to an enthusiastic visitor to Wimpole who, while admiring this years crop, was singing the praises of the preserve. Last time I tried a medlar I didn’t enjoy it, may be it was beyond its best, because I do remember that the very first time I had a bletted medlar (soften beyond ripeness) I thought that it was reassuringly like baby food.

med0

Beautiful medlar trees adorn the upper terraces near the parterre at Hatfield House, Hertfordshire

Of course I don’t remember that from my own childhood, but I do recall sampling the jars of pureed fruit or mushed up vegetables that I tried to feed my kids. Some of them were disgusting and were immediately relegated to the bin. However, the ones that I liked were the fruit custards and, of those, the best was apple puree. Medlars taste like that: a slightly gritty, apple flavour, but mellow, as though the apple has been cooked and mixed with a bit of cream.

med2

Medlars (Mespilus germanica), aka ‘open arse’ (Chaucer/Shakespeare), also ‘cul de chien’

Medlars (Mespilus germanica) are a very old fashioned fruit. Certainly, by medieval times they were well known in Britain and alluded to in literature of that period, albeit using crude names. In spite of their germanic latin name, the trees are indigenous to countries surrounding the Black Sea, particularly Bulgaria and Turkey. Since the Victorian era medlars have fallen out of favour here, possibly because the whole bletting process skirts the edge of rotting and we’ve become rather squeamish about such things. However, according to an Independent newspaper article this year, they could be about to make a comeback.

med5

Medlar in bud, showing the lovely long, fresh green leaves

They make a rather interesting small garden tree and are self-fertile so you only need the one. Growing to ~5m on Quince A rootstock, they can easily be pruned to keep them to ~2-3m and though they tend to have drooping branches, they can be shaped into twisting standards as shown by the lovely topiarised forms at Grimsthorpe Castle, Lincolnshire.

med1

Medlar flower: The petals have ruffled edges and are spread like stars.

The trees are practically trouble free. They flower in late spring and are unfussy about soil. They will even growing reasonably in partial shade. As the fruits develop they start to exhibit their characteristic anatomical shape. They grow until they reach the same sort of size as tomatoes, palm of your hand size.

med3

The autumn colour of medlar trees is another plus

Cropping occurs much later than apples or pears. You can either let the fruit soften naturally on the tree, waiting for mild frosts to do the work, or it is probably safer to pick the fruit in late October/early November, whilst they are still hard and let the medlars blet in storage. This takes about 3 weeks.

med4

One of the medlar trees to be found on the Wimpole Estate, Cambridgeshire

So, how is the jelly made from this soft brown flesh? Well, luckily there is nothing complicated about it. To make sure the jelly sets, it is suggested that about a fifth of the fruit used are hard/unbletted. These will have plenty of pectin. I’ve given the recipe that I used below.

med8

A bletted medlar, showing a pip extracted

Hopefully, the jelly will be delicious with Christmas dinner. It is much the same colour as quince jelly, perhaps a little more golden. Maybe I should try it with cheese and biscuits to test it first!

med6

Bletted medlar sitting on top of a jar of medlar jelly

So strangely, if you are interested in growing medlars, there are plenty of suppliers around* (not so out of favour then!) and there are a few cultivars to choose between. The most common cultivar is ‘Nottingham’, which is noted to have a pleasant taste. ‘Royal’ has larger fruit and can purportedly be eaten before bletting. ‘Large Russian’ has good flavoured and even larger fruit.

Medlar Jelly

Ingredients – scale up or down as required

800g bletted medlars
200g firm medlars
1.2 litres water
1-2 lemons
sugar -> match the amount of sugar to the volume of the strained medlar juice

Method

Chop the fruit in half, placing the pieces in a pan, covering with the water. Add the lemons, cut into large chunky pieces. Use a lid to partially cover the top, in order to retain as much liquid as possible, and gently simmer for about an hour. Don’t mash the fruit up too much in the pan, otherwise the jelly will end up cloudy.

Strain the juice using muslin or a jelly bag. Once the liquid is measured, return it to the pan with a matched amount of granulated sugar (I do this in old units 1 pint : 1 lb, which is 600ml:450g). Boil the syrup until it reaches setting point, i.e. until the surface of a cooled test drop wrinkles when touched.

Remove from heat and pour carefully into sterilized jam jars or kilner jars.

——————————————

*Here are some current suppliers of medlar trees in the UK

Victoriana Nursery

Otter Farm

Chris Bowers and Sons

Ashridge Nurseries

Orange Pippin Fruit Trees

 

 

 

Advertisements
Posted in fruit, Recipes, Trees | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Wordless Wednesday – I usually think of my dog as white …

sadie6

Until I see her in the snow! Nose down …

sadie5

… Snow brings out the scent trails apparently

sadie2

She looks like a golden retriever here

 

sadie4

But Sadie’s a labradoodle … mostly labrador obviously

sadie7

I think that you will find that my colour is ‘champagne’!!

Posted in Walks, Winter, Wordless | Tagged , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Wildlife Wednesday – And then there were none

snack

Blackbird (Turdus merula) taste-testing the holly berries

I am talking about holly berries here. Two weeks ago I had a hedge full of shiny red berries, but now it is completely green, denuded of its fruit. At some point last week I noticed movement amongst the branches and saw a blackbird hopping around, selecting succulent scarlet morsels, chucking them back whole. Luckily, I knew from previous years that it only takes a few days for the berries to disappear once the birds have decided that they are ready, so I cut a few loaded branches and have put them in water in the greenhouse. Phew, that is christmas pudding saved!

bird8

Reduced to throwing the leaf litter around to find food

Meanwhile the blackbirds have moved on to hurling wisteria leaves across the patio in an attempt to find and dislodge insects. That is better than emptying my pots of bulbs I suppose.

But there is another hotly sought after fruit tree on the driveway. It is a crab apple (a brilliant garden tree for year round interest and beauty). In the springtime I mentioned how amazing it was to stand and listen beneath its bee covered boughs when it was in blossom. Well, now that we’ve had a good frost and the apples are nicely soften, it has become Thrush family central.

bird12

Hopeful … in a queue for the crab apples

The blackbirds are in it as often as they can be. However, they are frequently reduced to queueing or collecting bits from the ground underneath, because there is a new group of players in evidence: Fieldfares (Turdus pilaris), recently arrived migrants.

Fieldfares are large, colourful thrushes and they typically start arriving in the UK in October. They tend to gather in big, sociable flocks to strip the sloe and hawthorn hedges and pick over the arable fields. Their noisy calls are very much a soundtrack to my daily dog walks now as they move, from tree to tree, down the alleys, always just a bit ahead of us.

bird6b

Fieldfare in the crab apple (always on the far side of the tree!)

They don’t usually come into the garden for food this early, but two or three have taken up semi-residence in the crab apple tree. They drive off any rivals for the feast. Hence the poor blackbirds waiting in the birch.

bird7

Standing on the old woodpigeons’ nest, ready to chase away the blackbirds

Don’t worry too much though, the blackbirds get a reasonable share of the apples.

bird3

Haha, I got one!

I spent some time trying to capture the moment the birds manage to tear off the whole fruit and then manipulate it into position to eat, but I accidentally caught this fieldfare yawning. Definitely yawning, not singing.

bird6

It is a bit tiring, all this defending and bullying!

The next day, when I checked for activity in the tree there were a couple of different  thrushes dominating the branches. These were mistle thrushes (Turdus viscivorus).

bird5

But who is this, looking coyly over her shoulder?

They are big, like the fieldfares, but much duller in colour. They have distinctive white edges to their outer tail feathers. They are UK residents. They are strong and can be aggressive, certainly in defense of a good resource, like a tree full of apples. Poor, poor blackbirds!

bird4

A lovely mistle thrush enjoying the newly mushy apples (since the snow last week)

There are two further thrush family members that I’ve seen in the garden recently. Neither seemed bothered about the ripe crab apples that I’ve noticed. The first is a Redwing (Turdus iliacus). It is apparently the smallest true thrush in the UK. It is a rare garden visitor, preferring fields and orchards. It migrates to the UK from September onwards (i.e. slightly earlier than the fieldfares). This one was interested in getting a drink.

bird10

Another member of the thrush family, a Redwing (Turdus iliacus)

Finally, to complete our Thrush family ‘spots’, we often see Song Thrushes (Turdus philomelos) around the patio area, under the vegetation, searching for food. There are several favourite stones around the area where bits of shell testify to snails meeting grizzly deaths. Yay!

bird14

Full house for the thrush family!  Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos)

Since we’ve been noticing the trees and hedges being cleared of fruit, it looked like time to put the bird feeders back up on the patio. Most of them are filled with peanuts and sunflowers seed and occasionally niger seeds. To be quite honest we were a bit shocked at the price of peanuts this year. More or less double last years’ costs. Did the harvests fail????

bird13

Long-tailed tit on the re-established pergola bird feeders

Anyway, so far we are mostly seeing tits use them. Once the weather turns more grim, I dare say we shall see a wider variety of visitors. Fingers-crossed for next month.

I am linking these November observations to Tina’s (@mygardenersays) monthly garden wildlife roundup, so click over to Texas to see how things are faring there (especially the drooling Opussum!).

Posted in birds, fruit, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

It’s National Tree Week – Let’s celebrate!

treesm

One of my recent facebook ‘7 B&W photos in 7 days’ challenge entries: Hoar frost on Oak

National Tree Week (a UK festival) was introduced in 1975 and is a celebration of all things ‘Tree’. It coincides with the beginning  of the winter planting season and here is the promotion poster for this year.

2017 National Tree Week

Oh dear … a lot of stereotyping going on here!

As a long-term tree-obsessive I thoroughly approve of their aim: ‘calling on everyone, everywhere to celebrate the value of trees, plant more and appreciate them all‘!

I have an old scrap-book, which contains magazine cuttings of trees, calendar pictures, postcards and photos, collected over very many years, to remind myself of their beauty, resilience and usefulness. Of course, I can’t find it now that I look for it, but I do have a ‘Tree’ directory on the computer that I use nowadays. Here is the first picture in that folder:

angel tree

The Angel Oak near Charleston, South Carolina (saved without credit I am afraid)

I love the clever photography to make it feel totally encompassing and I love the worlds-within-world conjured by the tree and its thriving ecosystem.

I also noticed that my Favourites page on Flickr contains a disportionate number of tree pictures. Here is a wonderful example on it by Willie Huang:

 

trees3

I like the feeling of continuity and spirituality it evokes.

My garden probably can’t take many more trees (and what we have are mostly fruit admittedly), but I am growing a Hankerchief tree (Davidia involucrata), started from seed and now in its third year, which I will be planted out in the meadow area shortly. Will you be planting any new trees this season?

I thought that I would finish with poem by american poet and novelist Henry Bunner (published in 1912) which captures the essence of exactly why we need to plant more trees.

The Heart of the Tree

What does he plant who plants a tree?
He plants a friend of sun and sky;
He plants the flag of breezes free;
The shaft of beauty towering high;
He plants a home to heaven anigh;
For song and mother-croon of bird
In hushed and happy twilight heard—
The treble of heaven’s harmony—
These things he plants who plants a tree.

What does he plant who plants a tree?
He plants cool shade and tender rain,
And seed and bud of days to be,
And years that fade and flush again;
He plants the glory of the plain;
He plants the forest’s heritage;
The harvest of a coming age;
The joy that unborn eyes shall see—
These things he plants who plants a tree.

What does he plant who plants a tree?
He plants in sap and leaf and wood,
In love of home and loyalty
And far-cast thought of civic good—
His blessings on the neighbourhood,
Who in the hollow of His hand
Holds all the growth of all our land—
A nation’s growth from sea to sea
Stirs in his heart who plants a tree.

~ Henry Cuyler Bunner

Posted in Trees, Winter | Tagged , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Wordless Wednesday – Success! Let there be many baby Titans

success

The impressive and successfully fertilised Titan Arum at Cambridge Botanic Gardens, October 2017. The fruits have begun to turn from orange to red, which means …

Time to sow the seeds of success!

Posted in Flowers, Nature, Whimsy, Wordless | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Wordless Wednesday – A grass worth having

grass

Pennisetum macrourum: Backlit and starting to fray, but still beautiful

Posted in Plants, Wordless | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

Honfleur and the window displays

Last week we had our windows replaced and luckily the weather wasn’t too cold or wet, otherwise the dog and I would have been quite miserable, huddled in the one useable room. To prepare for the job, it took me a lot longer than I thought it would clear the windowsills of stuff and plants.

holes

It turns out that I have far more house plants than I would have guessed, for instance I counted seven orchids in there, three Jade plants, eight aeonium zwartkop, various succulents and cacti etc. Suffice it to say that I like my windows dressed, preferably with green vegetation.

That put me in mind of a series of photographs that I took on a short break to Honfleur in Normandy at the end of August. Honfleur is stuffed to the teeth with charm, picturesque views, harbours, churchs, tourists and fish restaurants. Plus hundreds of small boutique shops. It was the window displays in these shops that caught my eye. They were, by turns, quirky, compulsive, collective, eye-catching and interesting. In fact I’d consider stealing some of their ideas now that the new windows are in. (There might be alternative views to take into account I suppose). Anyhow, for fun, I present to you a selection of these delightful french displays:

wincake

Classic patisserie

winmac

Yummy macarons

winsalt

Flavoured marine salts

wincalv

This is Normandy after all!

wingour

I love this one … La Cure Gourmande

winbeetle

Ummm … preserved beetles and bugs. (I think this was an antique furniture shop)

wincheese

Cheese, including hearts

winnougat

Massive, table-sized nougats and heaps of glacéd fruits

winmad

Madeleines and chocolate

Mostly food admittedly, but that seems to naturally lead to fanciful groupings. I only went inside one of these shops to buy something. Any guesses?

Posted in Food, Out and about, Whimsy | Tagged , , , , , , | 17 Comments