26 November 2007

Medlars, yum! Medlar comfits and more

Fear of sharing a recipe with you
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!

So I am a medlar purist, which is why it is time to tell you HOW NOT TO BE CONFINED TO MEDLAR PURISTISM.

My recipe for Medlar Comfits

Bletted medlars (when you pinch them, their insides ooze out)
Black Pepper

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: Their innies and outies
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


Anonymous said...

Oh my, this sounds delicious. I'll have to check at the local international/ethnic grocery store to see if I can get my hands on some medlars.

anna tambour said...

If you do manage to find medlars at that store, do buy them and eat them bletted, but don't do anything to them other than nip them in the skin and suck their insides out. This recipe is for people who have a superfluity of medlars - people who have small families and friends with no taste, people with no donkey friends, for instance - and they have medlars that are bletting faster than they are being et. If you are not in that category, then I imagine that if you do find a punnet of medlars, they'll be expensive. But I'd love to know what you find!

Instead, why don't you try adventuring with this recipe using what you have in season: apple pulp, or pureed carrots, pumpkin or squash.

Whatever you do, please write up your adventure. There is no finer insect chef than you, so whatever you do will be of interest.

Anonymous said...

I've just returned from a visit to Vienna, and I smuggled home some medlars bought at the Nachtmarkt there. The airport sniffer dog was interested in the knapsack's curious smell, but his handler was satisfied with the story about dried cranberries.

To my delight, smuggling seems to have quickened the bletting. What left the Oesterreich firm, arrived squishy.

Lucy said...

Oh my.

I finally got round to picking up a couple of the well-bletted medlars I've been driving past every week and was looking to see what I could find out about them. We've had some unseasonably early frosts and snows, and I think it must have been a good year for them. The tree belongs to a private house so I've been timid about scrumping, but it looked fairly deserted today, and anyway, the fruit seems to be going to waste.

I scooped out the insides, a surprising amount of flesh I thought, and mixed it with cream, that's all. A sublime revelation, a revelation of sublimity. I think I must go back and knock on the door...

But that's just the beginning. Now my serendipitous foraging has led me here, and what a seductive place it is to be sure. Like the medlars themselves, your blog is just tooooo good!

anna tambour said...

Dear Lucy,
This is such a gift from you! What a discovery you are. Your own blogs are in that spirit that I so love. Discovery, foraging, a joy in communicating rather than telling us how many words you wrote today. I am with you all the way as regards unappreciated bounties, and your adventures in foraging in your Lost and found, strange fruit, and poinsetta" post on your delightful Box Elder blog. If this is only the "meanderings of a displaced dilettante", the world needs more displaced dilettantes.

Fishing for Fruit was a most romantic occasion for me, but as you describe the horny melons, those fruits were better in the concept than the flesh. The African horned melon, or kiwano, is better in show than as a fruit. Being really just a fancy overseeded cucurbit, it ends up tasting like a cross between a cucumber's seeds and a tasteless honeydew. I think its greatest appeal is to supermarkets that like to have an exotic few thingies to show they're into variety, and in that section, there's always someone who will buy something once. But back to your own talents and fascinations. You're a marvelous poet, too, in collaboration or on your own. Feast Day is luscious without being self-consciously precious-foodie. It is juuust right. And your Out With Mol is in the spirit of good haiku, but not only that. Your companion, whether underneath a tree or sniffing trails, is finer than any jug of wine, and certainly than most romantic dalliances.

So thank you Lucy, for allowing me to discover the droppings of you.

Lucy said...

Oh thank you! And for spending the time. Whenever I get complacent about being any kind of reasonable writer for pleasure - a dilettante in the less pejorative, old fashioned sense - I come across someone who reminds me just how far I'd have to go to be really good, as you do. Which is salutary and good.

Trouble is, I could spend much too long here, and if I ever finished with you, there's all your utterly delectable links to explore...

On the kiwano - yes, I remember that was its name now - I must plead guilty to giving in to the desire for pointless novelty and being the someone who buys something once. They were, I think, grown in France, which I hoped went some way to mitigating the transgression. It said somewhere that it could be used as a centrepiece. The whole idea of centrepieces has always puzzled me; there is never room on our table for all the things we want to eat and drink, and the idea of placing a slightly hostile-looking spiky slug-like thing in the middle of the table to charm one's guests seemed very odd. One chap on a website said he brought one home but his girlfriend didn't want anything to do with it because it reminded her of a caterpillar she was frightened of as a child.

The Rosie posts moved me very much, going a little way to allaying fears about things both past and to come. A little way.

anna tambour said...

Dear Lucy,
Heavens! I am not disparaging your buying this kiwano! Nor am I saying it's like falling for a trick if you bought it in a supermarket. I hardly foraged mine in the Kalahari, which is where they naturally come from. I got mine in a supermarket, where I try one of many things, hoping that the one I try, hasn't been ruined as a sample by having been commercialised to insipidity, picked too early and thus never ripened, or otherwise abused. This is the only way we can try so many of these exotics, sometimes to our great benefit. In my own experience, I would put dragonfruit in the cute outside, tasteless inside category, and durian as a love that I now buy whenever I can find one.

And as for that kiwano, its great value has to be lost on us and our bountiful table and overquenched bodies. It is an invaluable source of water to the bushmen, and thus, the most delicious of all foods, that which supplies what's needed when it's needed. No gourmet can ever experience the satisfaction that something like a few drops of liquid does, or a chew on a root, when food and drink is so close to the simple but necessary act of breathing. And the other thing is that the kiwano has much taste if there is no competition, just as water from a stream can taste better than the best vintaged plonk.

Karen S Booth said...

What a wonderful recipe ~ I made quince comfits before, but I have bookmarked this page for future meddling with medlars!

anna tambour said...

What a treat for me that you dropped in. You're quite an adventurer yourself, and a marvelous virtual providore of salivatoriana!

So anyone who lands here, do go see
Karen Booth - Food Writer - Country Feasts and Fables
and her blogs
Lavender and Lovage

wildcraft diva said...

Discovered your blog looking for info about the Medlar. So glad. Have linked to this, thanks : )