“Take the fairest Medlers you can get, but let them not be too ripe, then set on faire water on the fire, and when it boyleth put in your Medlers, and let them boyle till theyt be somewhat soft, then while they are hot pill them, cut off their crowns, and take out their stones, then take to every pound of Medlers, three-quarters of a pound of sugar, and a quarter of a pint of Rose water, seeth your Syrupe, scumming it clean, then put in your Medlers one by one, the stalks downward, when your Syrupe is somewhat coole them set them on the fire againe, let them boyle softly till the Syrupe be enough, then out in a few Cloves and a little Cinnamon, and so putting them up in pots reserve them for your use.”
Thomas Jenner, A Book of Fruits and Flowers (1653)
As you might imagine, after reading through this C17th method for preparing and preserving medlars in a syrup of rose water, I’ve been left feeling somewhat confused, if not downright bemused.
The main source of puzzlement is the use of the term “pill them”, which we are invited to do when the medlars are still hot. Does that mean to peel them, as would be the case if the author had told us to ‘pare’ them? Or does ‘pilling’ in this context mean something else entirely? We’re also told to cut off the “crowns” of the medlars, which presumably means to remove the dog’s bum1If you’ve ever seen a medlar in the flesh, you’ll know what I’m talking about… end, as later we have to put the pilled, de-stoned and de-crowned medlars into the syrup with their “stalks downward”, so obviously the stalks have to be left on.
Then we have to re-boil the syrupy medlars – softly, mind you – until the syrup is “enough”. Again, I’m guessing there’s a C17th meaning of the term “enough” in this context that means something subtly, or maybe not-so subtly, different to today’s understanding? Or maybe it just means “the right amount”, and the experienced cook is expected to know what that is and when they’ve reached it.
You know what? I think I’ll just stick to my tried-and-tested method for making medlar cheese and medlar jelly, just as soon as this batch has finished bletting:
Either that or I’ll reach for my copy of Jane Steward’s excellent book Medlars, Growing and Cooking (2023, Prospect Books) and see what other recipes and preserving methods she recommends.
How about you? Do you like the sound of Thomas Jenner’s method for preserving medlars in syrup? Do you already use Jane Steward’s preserving and/or jelly-making method? Or do you have your own tried-and-tested recipes for making use of this lovely autumn fruit? Do you know what “pilling” or “enough” might mean, in the context of historical cookery? Please do let me know any or all of the above, via the comments.
- 1If you’ve ever seen a medlar in the flesh, you’ll know what I’m talking about…