For ages, I've wanted to tell you recipes, but have always been too shy. What if you hate them? After all, we don't all have the same taste, and the first principle I would teach, for any cook, is to tear off labels on spices and herbs, thereby freeing the cook to smell and taste without prejudice.
Yet, now that medlars are bletting this very moment in the northern hemisphere, perfuming the air with their luscious rottenness, duty to them calls.
If you want to make your medlars into something historic, you can't go better than to hurry off to Ivan Day's splendid Historic Food site, where you will find Theodore Garrett's Medlar Cheese recipe and see it made into gorgeous animal shapes using Victorian-style moulds.
I have previously urged you not to cook your medlars because they have too much character and are far more rewarding sucked than smooshed. And I also told you about their character and urged you not to add adulterants because a bletted medlar is hardly insipid.
I mean, if you were a vampire and you had a crack at the neck of a virgin or a roué, which would be the richer experience for you, and better for your health? Fresh, as we're told so it must be true, is best!
My recipe for Medlar Comfits
Bletted medlars (when you pinch them, their insides ooze out)
Squish your medlars, as many as you have or have patience to squish.
(As for that stuff that's left after you smoosh your medlars: Pour boiling water over it, and leave to cool. Strain through a sieve and you have medlar nectar.)
Put the pulp in a pan with a like amount of honey. (By like amount, I mean that as roughly as the inaccuracy of using a cup for a measure instead of a scale.) In the case of this batch pictured, the pulp of ten medlars made a metric 1/2 cup. I used a metric 1/2 cup of honey.
To that, put what seems like a ridiculous amount of spice. In this case, I used 1/2 teaspoon each of coriander, cardamom, and ginger, and three freshly smashed peppercorns. To this, add your butter (I used a walnut-sized blob).
Cook over medium heat, stirring all the while with a wooden spoon. It should seethe nicely in no time, and thicken faster than it should, considering anything exotic should take several hours and need specialised equipment imported from Youxsiytihia. Consider it done when it parts to your spoon like the Red Sea to the Israelites, falling back before you can say a two-syllable word. It will be satiny and pourable but not runny. Cooking this batch took 15 minutes.
Pour into an oiled tray or dish to a depth that is as thick as you have patience for, because it needs to dry. Put aside till it sets firm enough to do what you will with it, which in this case, was two days later, when it was rubbery enough to come away in one piece when lifted with a knife, but still pliable enough to be rolled up without cracking.
Now wreak your will upon it.
To make these medlar comfits:
Cut into strips and roll up, put them on waxed paper in a cardboard box. Leave for several weeks at least, not only for the consistency to be firmer and chewier, but for the spices and honey to properly mellow.
These comfits are spectacularly good eaten with an accompaniment of walnuts. Serve also with cheese, wine, and with coffee instead of chocolate.
Cure whole on waxed paper and use uncut, topping a plain New York cheesecake. Make the crust of the cheesecake, not with anything spiced, but adding crushed walnuts to the mix.
The secret of this recipe is that it is so simple and unfussy. It is a liberator, if you are someone like Julian Barnes, whose Pedant in the Kitchen tells how recipes intimidate. Faugh on that! Food is to enjoy, and making food should be joyful. When your medlar comfits sludge is furiosing in the pan, you should be smiling at the colour, smell, anticipation of licking the pot soon; and eventually, in good time, enjoying the comfits themselves with human friends, the companionship of a good book, or whatever moves you, without tasting any liverish worry of did I do it right?
It doesn't really matter how much honey you use, because you will cook the mixture to your taste, and cure the comfits to your temperament. If you use no spice, then that's fine, too. Or add to those spices 1/4 teaspoon of cloves (I did, and loved the spicy result), or substitute 1/4 teaspoon of dry powdered mustard for the pepper. Or leave out spices and instead, sprinkle the top with chopped pistachios just after you pour it out, and when dry enough cut into diamonds. Use your imagination. Just don't substitute honey with corn syrup, or every medlar that ever lived will haunt your dreams till you are so well bletted that you can't hold your bones.
You might also enjoy these posts about medlars in Medlar Comfits:
Medlars in spring, and their companions
The first Onuspedia entry: 'Skwandro'
And I'm ashamed to say that Ellen Datlow took much better portraits of medlars I know and who grew up with me, than I have. Here they are:
Medlars presented for our medieval feast