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A Medley of Old Fruits

Medlar & Quince Jelly

The medlar, named after the Roman hero Germanicus, and the quince, something I always associate with Elizabethan England, are two fruits which are beautiful in their ugliness. Perhaps they don’t fit the perfect, glossy round fruit look we have been told to crave. Their irregular furry and bumpy surface, mottled and tactile are, however, for me much more alluring.

Both fruits come from medium-sized trees, which without the fruit would be rather lovely in any garden. The medlar, Mespilus germanicus, always makes a contorted shape, its large, simple blossom covering a wide area on mature specimens and its ovate, brittle green foliage turning electric yellow in autumn.

The quince, Cydonia, also comes from the cradle of civilisation. Unlike the medlar, which is named after the hero who brought it to Rome, the quince grew quietly on the Mesopotamian plains before the Israelites of Judea cultivated it and brought into their diet, calling it Perishin. Later, the Greeks got a taste for it, dedicated it to Aphrodite and, via way of association with Cydonia on Crete, we Europeans have known the quince ever since.

That’s a long introduction to jelly-making but, like most things horticultural, we are sowing the seeds and reaping the harvests of our collective ancestors, which stretch back to the dawn of the civilised world.

I collected the few fruits from my quince, roughly four and the 10 to 12 small medlars. I have to admit this was a first time for me but part of my reasoning in making a home here at Maison de Vanniers was to appreciate the small and seasonal joys of living. Yes, I could buy quince jelly but the magic is surely taking the curious fruit and making the pink jewel-like jelly for oneself?


4-5 quince fruit

10-12 medlar fruit

Sugar (I used powered, unrefined castor)

The method is rather easy – it has to be as I’m not suggesting I’m skilled at home baking, or in this case, jam-making.

Roughly chop the medlars and place (throw) in a jam pan or large saucepan. Chop chunks from the quince and throw into the same pan. You will notice the flesh of the quince is grainy and yellow, it’s also mighty hard so pay attention to a slipping knife and fingers!

Once you have the chopped ingredients, cover with water and put on a high heat to bring to the boil. When you reaching boiling point, simmer until the fruits look mushy! Mash with a fork or masher without draining to have a liquid that resembles a runny apple sauce.

With a muslin cloth and a conical sieve I then drained the mush. It took about four hours! I ws left with a pinky-amber liquid, which would have filled about four small jam jars.

Take the liquid and measure how may cups you have – I had imperial measurement cups, well actually a beaker. It doesn’t matter but the unit you measure by is the same unit to use to add the sugar. I literally had four cups of liquid so I added four cups of sugar.

Return to the heat and boil, boil and boil. Be careful not to burn it but it takes ages. I tested the setting point by dropping a little liquid onto the back of a china saucer or plate. When it cools, if the edges wrinkle and the liquid is moving but turgid, it’s ready.

Pour the liquid into sterilised jars and screw on the lids. The setting takes about 24 hours and it should look and taste slightly like extremely expensive Turkish delight. If you have never tasted extremely expensive Turkish delight, then with this jelly you are in for a treat, which can be wasted on toast. Enjoy it instead on freshly made sourdough or even eaten luxuriantly with cold meats in darkest February.

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