Thursday, 10 December 2009

A mediaval chelly

Do you know what these brown creatures are?

These are medlars - plum-size, apple-like fruits that originated in Asia (and possibly South-Eastern Europe) that used to be very common on the tables of English royalty in the medieval times, but have almost disappeared since then and are virtually unknown to the great British public. Well, I was exquisitely pleased to discover these rare fruits at the Stoke Newington market last Saturday - I happened to know of the mysterious medlar from my visit to the National Collection of apples, pears and...medlars a few weeks back. I bought some, I cooked some and here I'm passing on the wisdom:)

The lovely lady selling medlars at the market grow lots of little known apples in her farm in Essex. She also makes cute bottles of jams and preserves and, occasionally, some medlar cheese (essentially, a paste, akin to Spanish Membrillo), but that day she didn't have any for sale, so I bought a bag of medlars with an intention to try and make some myself.

Medlars need to be bletted - that is, to be half-rotten, or soften by frost and/or long-ish rest - before cooking. I bought them already in that lovely, gooey state and proceeded to making a dish that is something in between a jelly and cheese:

Medlar jesse or chelly (do pass on the new word!):

You will only need caster sugar, lemon juice and some spicing in addition to your medlars.

How to:

Put medlars, as they are, no need to peel or clean, in a saucepan; cover with an inch of water or so; bring to the boil and simmer until they become soft and almost fall apart (some 10 minutes or so). You may need to add a bit more water if it evaporates too quickly.

Plonk this medlar porridge into a sieve (or ideally a jelly bag, which I don't have) and let the liquid to come out, by pressing gently on the cooked medlars. You will end up with dark-brown silky puree.

Weight the puree, and measure the same amount of water. Put both into a saucepan with a pitch of allsprice, cinnamon, clove - really, whatever spices you like (I'm thinking adding some liqueur or brandy might be nice, like Estonian Vana Tallinn...) and sugar (about 1/4 of sugar to the original weight of your medlars) and a couple of table spoons of lemon juice.

Simmer until set (about 5-10 minutes, but you may want to try the official method of checking whether your jelly is set by putting a little of it onto a chilled plate, let it rest for a minute and then move up the mixture with a spoon along the place surface - if it wrinkles, it's set - but to be honest, I didn't really bother).

Pour the mixture into a jar or a nice bowl and let it cool. The result smells like Christmas itself, and the combination of the tart and sweet flavours, and the grainy and honey-like texture is quite special.

The chelly can be sliced into thin wedges and eaten beautifully with some tart cheese and sourdough bread, or - like here - with spelt biscuits.

p.s. and for my Russian-speaking audience, medlar is mushmula germanskaya, apparently. anyone has ever heard of it back in the USSR??


Daily Spud said...

Love ye olde terminology! Would be fascinated to try some medlars myself.

Kitchen Butterfly said...

Oh wow....I've never heard of Medlars. Thank you for teaching me a bit more about foods of the world...