Earlier this year I mentioned that the medlar crop at Ordsall Hall, where I work as a part-time gardener and orchardist, was looking particularly good. A couple of weeks ago, I picked up a few kilos of ripe, windfallen medlars and brought home the most-bletted ones to turn into medlar jelly and – if all went well, this being my first attempt at making it – medlar cheese.
Here’s how I turned those medlars into three batches of delicious, jammy, spicy-sweet condiments, ideal to accompany the likes of (non-fruit) cheese, cold meats or hot sausages, or just for spreading on hot buttered toast or crumpets.
The following is the full, descriptive version of the process. If you’d like to see a more condensed method, please feel free to jump ahead to the summary.
When I weighed my medlar haul, I found I had around 3.5Kg (5lb 8oz) of medlars, which was just a fraction of the total crop this year. That meant I was going to need around 1.5 to 1.8 Kg of sugar to make the medlar cheese and medlar jelly, as the recipes I’d researched generally recommended using around half the quantity of sugar to medlar pulp or juice by weight, bearing in mind that some wastage was inevitable, mostly in the form of the medlar skins and seeds.
First, I soaked and rinsed the medlars to get rid of any bits of grass, soil, leaf etc. that I’d picked up with them, then split them into two batches, one of roughly 3Kg, with the other 500g held back for later.
Pulping Medlars for Cheese
The 3Kg batch went into a large saucepan, with around 300ml of water. I then mashed the medlar fruits – easy to do once they’re bletted – into the water, and set the mixture on the stove. First I brought it up to a slow boil, then reduced it to a steady simmer for around 30-40 minutes, the goal being to separate as much of the pulp as possible from the seeds and skins.
Once the pulp was as loosened as it was likely to get, I passed the cooked medlar mush through a large metal colander into a suitably large bowl – or rather, two bowls, as I wanted to separate the pulp into two batches – pressing the mush through with the back of a spatula. The bowls then went into the fridge whilst I prepared the medlar jelly liquor.
Juicing Medlars for Jelly
For the jelly, I used the skins and seeds left over from from the cheese pulp, plus the 500g or so of whole medlars that I’d reserved earlier. They went into the same large pan, and were topped up with enough water to just cover the fruit. They were then cooked on a rolling boil for around 20 mins, again until as much pulp as possible was separated from the skins and seeds:
I then divided the pulp into two muslin cheesecloths, tied them up at tops, and hung them up to drip into a large bowl, leaving them to do their thing overnight:
Next morning, I gave the bags a good, firm squeeze to extract as much of the juice as possible – being careful not to squeeze hard enough to push the pulp through the cloth, as that could result in a cloudy jelly – and then put the juice in the fridge until I was ready to cook it up.
Making Medlar Cheese
Once I was ready to make the first batch of medlar cheese, I first ensured I had a selection of sterilised containers – in this case, two small Kilner jars and a few of jam-jars of assorted sizes – ready to fill.
I knew that when cooked, Medlar cheese is very dense and quite sticky, so I decided to use my largest non-stick pan, rather than the other option of a large, stainless steel stockpot. For the first batch, I added the juice of one lemon, but nothing else in the way of spices, as I wanted to add a bit of sharpness but didn’t want to obscure the essential medlar flavour too much. For the second, I added a heaped teaspoonful of powdered ginger, another of powdered sweet cinnamon, and a level teaspoonful of powdered nutmeg, as I wanted to try a version with a more historically authentic, spiced character.
First I warmed the medlar pulp until it started gently bubbling, then started to gradually add the sugar, pouring it in slowly and stirring well as I went. Each batch of pulp was around 1.2Kg in weight, so I added 600g of sugar to each. Once the sugar was thoroughly incorporated and well on the way to being dissolved, I turned up the heat and brought the medlar pulp to a boil, before reducing it to a rolling simmer.
A Few Words of Warning:
Medlar pulp does a pretty good impression of molten lava and will bubble, plop and spit out red-hot globs once it gets going. It also requires a fair amount of stirring – with the longest-handled silicon spatula you possess – to prevent it sticking and burning, so do take the following Top Tips under consideration:
- Don’t stir too vigorously. If you do, there’s a very good chance of molten medlar pulp jumping out of the pan and burning your hands, arms and any other exposed bits.
- With the above in mind, do consider wearing long sleeves, eye protection, maybe even a face-mask.
- If your stove is a fair distance from your sink, maybe have a large bowl of cold water close by, ready to plunge any scorched hands into if the situation deteriorates.
- Do please be extremely careful throughout.
Back to my own medlar cheese experience. As the mixture thickened, the molten pulp became even more active (and dangerous!) so I turned the heat down when it seemed a little too lively for safety. By this point I was stirring almost constantly as well.
It took upwards of an hour or so for the mixture to be ready. I suspected it might be done when I noticed the pulp had turned quite a bit darker and much thicker, to the point that when I scooped out a spatula-ful, it was reluctant to drop back into the pan, and stirring was leaving strong spatula-trails behind. Something like this:
At this point, it was a case of removing the pan from the heat and dolloping the medlar cheese into my pre-prepared Kilern jars and other containers, before sealing them up and leaving the cheese to cool and set.
Here’s my finished first batch, just before the Kilner jars were sealed. The last scrapings of the pan are in the small bowl, and should give you an idea of the consistency that the medlar cheese ended up at:
And the results of my first ever attempt to make medlar cheese? Condensed, fruity deliciousness! It has a texture somewhere between marzipan and thick jam; almost fudge-like, but without the dense, cloying sugariness you get from a mouthful of fudge. There’s a whack of sweetness from all the sugar, certainly, but it doesn’t over-power the character of the fruit, so the hard-to-describe flavour of the medlars is present at full strength, which is superb.
It’s absolutely lovely, and I’ll definitely be making medlar cheese again. In fact, I may well see if I can branch out into other high-pectin fruit cheeses. Apples, pears, quinces, damsons and blackcurrants all spring to mind.
Making Medlar Jelly
Making medlar jelly is a similar process, but with much less stirring of molten fruit pulp. Preparation-wise, you’ll need to sterilise a few jars – always do a couple more than you think you’ll definitely need, just to be sure – and put a small plate into the fridge.
After weighing the juice and pouring it into the same large saucepan I used for the cheese, I heated it to a strong simmer, then slowly added half the weight of the juice in sugar, again pouring gradually and stirring thoroughly to make sure the sugar was well dissolved.
With all the sugar dissolved, it was time to increase the heat and bring the resulting fruit syrup up to a boil, then keep it at a rolling boil until around two-thirds of the liquid had evaporated. It’s a good idea to occasionally skim the solids from the surface as the boil progresses.
A Few More Words of Warning:
You should definitely keep at least half an eye on the mixture, because at some point, as the water is evaporated from the syrup, a tipping point will be reached and the rolling boil will become a foaming boil – you’ll know it when you see it – and if you don’t reduce the heat at this point then you’ll run the risk of volcanic overspill, over the rim of the pan and all over your stove-top.
Back to the jelly-making. Once the syrup had reduced by around two-thirds – I noticed a distinct colour-change as well, from a light golden-yellow to a deeper amber-orange – it was time for the jelly set-test. Remember the plate I put in the fridge earlier? I dropped a dessert-spoonful of the jelly onto the plate, waited around 30 seconds, then gave it a firm push with my finger. I was looking for the jelly to noticeably wrinkle as I pushed it – which it did – and then if it didn’t flow back to fill the groove left by my finger, I figured it had reached the setting-point and was ready for storing
I then poured the jelly into my sterilised jars using a jam funnel – very useful indeed indeed at this stage of the process – and then I sealed them up, waited until they’d cooled and then labelled them up for the store-cupboard.
In my experience, medlar jelly keeps well for a good three to four years, as long as the containers are properly sterilised. We’re still eating our way through the 2018 supply, and then there’s the 2020 and now the 2021 vintages to follow. That’s when were not eating up the crab apple jelly and quince jelly, of course. Medlar cheese is new to me, so I’ll have to see how it lasts over the next couple of years, but I suspect it will be similarly durable.
So, there you go. I do hope the above was helpful and I hope you enjoy making your own medlar – or a.n.other fruit – cheese and jelly. Do let me know how you get on with yours, via the comments, or by emailing me with your notes and photos.
There now follows a condensed summary version of the above, and after that is the footnotes and the comments. Please feel to leave a comment if you have any questions, suggestions or corrections to any of the above.
How to Make Medlar Cheese
- Sterilise the jars, cheese moulds or plastic boxes in which you will be storing your medlar cheese.
- Weigh, then wash / rinse bletted medlars.
- Mash the medlars into water, around 100ml per kilo of fruit.
- Bring to a boil, then simmer for 20-30 mins, topping up the water if required.
- Pass the cooked medlars through a colander to separate the pulp into a large bowl.
- Put the pulp into a large non-stick or heavy-bottomed pan.
- Heat the pulp to a steady simmer.
- If required, add lemon juice (approx. 1x lemon / 2x tablespoons per kg of pulp) and powdered spices (1 heaped / level teaspoon of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, clove etc,. as preferred).
- Add approx. half pulp weight in sugar (i.e. 500g sugar per 1Kg pulp), pouring slowly and stirring in with a silicon spatula.
- Increase the heat to achieve a strong simmer / low boil.
- Stir regularly to avoid the cheese sticking and burning. N.B. medlar pulp is very hot and very sticky. Wear eye protection and have cold water / a tap nearby to wash off any splashes from hands / arms.
- Continue to stir until medlar pulp has darkened and thickened to the point where clear spatula-trails are left behind and the pulp is reluctant to drop off the spatula.
- Remove from heat and spoon into sterilised jars, cheese moulds or plastic boxes for cooling, setting and storage until use.
How to Make Medlar Jelly
- Sterilise the jars in which you will be storing the medlar jelly and put a small plate or dish in the fridge to cool.
- Weigh, then wash / rinse bletted medlars.
- Put fruit into a large, non-stick or heavy-bottomed pan and add enough water to just cover them.
- If required, add powdered spices (1 heaped / level teaspoon of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, clove etc,. per kg of fruit, as preferred).
- Bring to a boil, then simmer for 20-30 mins.
- Put the cooked medlars into a muslin cloth or jelly bag and leave them to drip into a bowl overnight, wrapping both bag and bowl with cling-film if required.
- Weigh the extracted juice and put it back into the large, non-stick or heavy-bottomed pan.
- If required, add lemon juice (approx. 1x lemon / 2x tablespoons per kg of juice).
- Add approx. half juice weight in sugar (i.e. 500g sugar per 1Kg juice), pouring slowly and stirring in with a silicon spatula or wooden spoon and ensuring that all the sugar has dissolved.
- Bring the medlar syrup to a boil, then reduce to a rolling boil.
- Skim occasionally to remove any solids from the surface.
- Continue the rolling boil until the syrup has darkened from golden-yellow to amber-orange and the volume has reduced by around two-thirds. N.B. At some point the syrup will go from a rolling boil to a rising, foaming boil. Turn the heat down at this point to avoid a volcanic pan-overspill.
- Use the chilled plate to test whether the jelly has reached its setting-point, by dropping a spoonful of jelly onto the plate, waiting 30 seconds, then pushing through it with your finger. If the jelly wrinkles as you push, and doesn’t flow back to fill in the groove left by your finger, it’s most likely ready to set.
- If you’re not sure it’s at the setting-point, leave it to boil for another 2-3 minutes, then do the plate test again. Repeat until you’re sure.
- Once you’re happy that the jelly will set, remove from the heat and decant into your sterilised jars, via a jam-funnel.
- Seal the jars for storage until use.
|⇧1||The wind may have been some assistance in the form of a spot of manual tree-shaking…|
|⇧2||’Bletted’ describes the state that some fruits reach when they’ve ripened and then ‘gone over’ a bit, to the extent of being distinctly softened, but not yet rotten. With medlars, you can tell when bletting has started because their skins change colour – from sandy brown to a deeper chestnut brown – and a gentle squeeze will distort the fruit, without bursting the skins. Burst medlars are wide open to all sorts of bacterial and fungal infection, and although they’re going to be boiled during the making of medlar cheese or medlar jelly, it’s perhaps best not to take chances.|
|⇧3||Other foodstuffs may be accompanied by medlar cheese and/or jelly, at the reader’s discretion.|
|⇧4||Surprisingly dense fruit, your medlar.|
|⇧5||If you’re worried about fruit flies, cats or small children getting into the bowl of juice, you can wrap cling-film around the top of the bowl and the cheesecloths, to make a sort of plastic-wrap tent. But it’s not hugely necessary, as the liquid will be well-boiled during cooking, so will be nice and sterilised by the time it’s ready.|
|⇧6||Traditionally, you would have used a cheese or butter mould, allowing you to form the finished fruit cheese into a firm block, with or without an embossed pattern on the top. For modern-day, longer-term storage though, a jam-jar, Kilner jar or similar is ideal.|
|⇧7||Trust me, a good silicon spatula is your friend here. A wooden spoon or spatula may feel more authentic, but the flexibility of the silicon will allow you to get into all the angles of your pan and scrape down the sides properly, which will help to avoid over-cooking or burning, which might spoil the flavour of the cheese.|
|⇧8||I have a shiny, new, 5mm diameter burn-mark on the back of my hand to illustrate the point.|
|⇧9||Seriously, you do not want to be trying to wash this stuff out of your eyeball.|
|⇧10||If you happen to have suck a thing to hand…|
|⇧11||All things considered, this probably isn’t a home-kitchen activity to under-take with small children. Maybe consider sticking to something less dangerous, like, oh, I don’t know, juggling live cobras?|
|⇧12||Some jelly-making recipes suggest warming the sugar in the oven beforehand, then dumping it all in at once, but that seems like a bit of a waste of energy to me, unless your oven is an always-on type. Adding slowly and stirring as you go seems just as effective to me.|
|⇧13||Particles of fruit flesh and other bits and bobs (technical term) will naturally float to the surface of the boiling syrup, and should be removed to improve the appearance and clarity of the finished jelly.|
|⇧14||So speaks the voice of sad experience…|
|⇧15||Don’t rush the set-test. If in doubt, give it another minute or three top continue boiling away, then do the set-test again and repeat until you’re sure. In the past I’ve got to the third or fourth indistinct set-test, thought “ah, that’ll do” and decanted the syrup, only to find that it was still distinctly liquid the next morning and had to be re-boiled and re-decanted, which is a massive waste of time and energy, all things considered. Patience, jelly padawan, patience.|
|⇧16||I’ve seen different opinions as to whether you need to turn the jars upside down to sterilise the inside of the lids with the hot jelly. Some say yes, others say no, as it’s unnecessary and even dangerous if the lid isn’t quite as tight as it needs to be…|