The best medlar jelly in the world
Well made medlar jelly is a true delight. It is beautiful to look at: amber with pink highlights and very glossy.
And medlar jelly is joyous to taste; some say it is like sweet cider infused with cinnamon and a touch of allspice. Whatever your adjectives it is utterly delicious, wondrously fragrant and gives a lift to game and cold meats like no other jelly. Add a spoonful to your gravy, and you will never be without it again.
You can buy medlar jelly in the shops, especially in season, and it is easy to make. So much so that everyone should have a medlar tree – small, well behaved, tolerant of most soil types and producing the best fruit jelly made. Who could ask for more?
This recipe for medlar jelly is a family heirloom and never fails. The quantities shown make about 6 big jam jars full (but have a couple extra ready in case you get a bit more).
Ingredients (for about 6 large jam jars)
- 3 small, sharp apples or 20-25 crab apples
- 2.5kg bletted medlars(see below)
- 600g firm medlars
- 4 lemons
- 3 litres water
- 1.2kg granulated sugar
- Christmassy option: about 20 cloves added at the beginning, which are removed when you strain.
- The bletted medlars should be dark and soft before you start. Clean them by removing any stalks and leaves and chopping them in half. Remove any really obvious rotten bits.
- Cut the lemons and apples into quarters (just halve crab apples if you are using those instead). Then put all the fruit into a maslin or large saucepan, such as you would use for jam making.
- Pour all the water over the fruit and bring to the boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat and cover with a lid. Leave to simmer gently for about an hour.
- Don't boil hard, and keep covered so the water doesn't evaporate.
- Every 10-15 minutes squash the fruit with a wooden spoon. Don't over squash or stir the whole time as your jelly will end up cloudy (the taste is unaffected though).
- Pour the whole mess into a jelly bag hung over a large bowl. Bathroom taps are great for the job although we have a hook on a beam in the garage. Just let the juice drip into the bowl.
- For the clearest jelly, do not squeeze at all. If you leave the bag there for 12 hours, almost all the juice will have run through by itself anyway. (After the juice has run through, you can put the contents of the bag on the compost heap.)
- Measure the juice, which should be clear and a wonderful amber-rose colour, into a suitably sized clean saucepan and boil hard for 6-7 minutes. Then add an equal amount of sugar (which should be about 6 cups or 1.2kg).
- Bring back to the boil and stir until the sugar has completely dissolved. Boil hard for another 2-3 minutes and test on the back of a spoon for setting.
- When it has just begun to set (medlar jelly is best with a soft as opposed to hard consistency) pour or ladle into sterilised, warm jars and seal. Leave to cool.
If you were a bit nervous about your jelly being too hard, and find that is still has not set the next morning, you can put it back into a pan and boil for 4-5 minutes then return to the jars. When cool, medlar jelly should be smooth and soft and have a lovely gleam to it.
A note on pectin: Medlars lose their pectin as they ripen, and pectin is essential to make your jelly set. You could put some hard medlars in the mix to provide it, but adding sharp or crab apples is better in our opinion: Golden Hornet makes golden jelly, while Evereste makes it pink.
Bletting essentially means to totally ripen, right up to the point of being overripe. It doesn't mean rotten or properly overripe, but some people associate the softness of bletted fruit with those later stages of actual decay.
Shop bought medlars are generally unripe and much too hard to be useful, so they need to be bletted and softened first. Remove their leaves and put them on plates. They can touch, but do not heap them up. Put them in a cool, frost free place away from rodents and leave them until they turn deep brown and are really soft, almost squashy. Depending on how hard they were when you started, this can take from 1 week to 4 weeks.
For homegrown medlars, simply leave them on the tree until they are ready. You can pick by hand, or when you have a mature tree and are going to use them immediately, knocking them off with a suitable pole onto a sheet spread below is quicker. They are then ready to cook.