Do you remember my tale of medlars bletting in the greenhouse? Well the story has progressed to jelly and cheese! First though let me tell you a little bit more about medlars themselves.
Their Latin name is Mespilus germanica and they are indigenous to Iran and southwest Asia, and arrived in Greece around 700BC. It was the Romans who brought them into northern Europe, and according to Wikipedia they were an important crop during Roman and medieval times. These days though you would struggle to find them for sale in England. Thank goodness therefore for Mum who has a medlar tree!
In the late autumn the fruit are ready to pick, although you can leave them on the tree to drop. However for a more controlled process it is advisable to pick them and keep them on a windowsill or in the greenhouse. Make sure they are left to ‘blet’ in a single layer or you might end up with them rotting. I kept mine in the greenhouse so it took quite a few weeks for them to full blet (soften). You know when they are ready as the fruit turn from golden to dark brown, and become very soft to touch. You can eat them raw once the flesh becomes a creamy (albeit brown) puree, or if you prefer you can turn them into a delicious jelly and/or cheese, which is what I did. It is a bit of a herculean effort though!
First step is to separate the pulp from the seeds (quite large and hard) and peel, and most recipes recommend you achieve this by simmering them in water for about an hour. You may need to smash them a bit with a potato masher before you turn up the heat. I also added a couple of hours and lemon rind to add to the flavour.
Apparently at the end of the hour you simply pour the mixture into a colander, stir slightly and after a few minutes magically the pulp will separate.
Hmmmm! It was more like half hour of fierce stirring for me and I also had to add more water. And only one book mentioned just how messy this stage is. Eventually though I got there and I had a mass of peel and stones in the colander, and lots of puree in the jam pan. Now it was time to sieve the puree.
Fortunately this process I could leave to sort itself over night, I did though need a huge deep container and cheese cloth. The following morning I came downstairs to juice in the container, and a rather fabulous solid looking pulp in the cheese cloth. I thought the latter looked amazing.
I decided to make the jelly first and so it was poured into the jam pan along with the equivalent amount of sugar. The heat was then turned up, I added my thermometer and waited for it to get to the magic jam setting stage. After about half hour the jelly was looking wonderful. A gorgeous colour and smelt great too. I quickly heated my jam jars and a short while later the jelly was in the jars.
Now for the cheese. This turn out to be quite dangerous!
You have to add half its weight in sugar and heat it up. You can’t leave it because it needs almost constant stirring to stop it burning on the bottom of the pan. The main problem is that the essential heat makes it plop ferociously, and your hands and kitchen risk being splashed with very hot mixture.
Most of the recipes say it needs to be thick enough so it won’t drop off the wooden spoon you are stirring it with, but that’s not a helpful guide. Others say when you move the spoon across the surface it should leave a line, but that’s not really helpful either. I kept going until there was a ‘red sea parting’; ie when I pulled the spoon across the bottom the mixture separated and I could see the bottom of the pan for about 10 seconds. It had taken nearly an hour to get to this stage and I probably should have cooked mine a little bit longer. However my hands, kitchen and I had had enough!
Finally you can transfer the mixture into molds, jars or whatever your cunning plan is, and then leave it to become hard. Mine has set but it not hard, I probably should have cooked it longer or maybe left out of the fridge to dry. Still it is delicious!