What is a medlar? It sounds like some creature from Harry Potter's adventures. Few people have heard of these esoteric fruits, much less tasted them. They have fallen out of fashion over the past century, perhaps because they aren't very easy to eat. In centuries past, they were more common, with remnants strewn about in English literature. Shakespeare alludes to medlars in "As You Like It," when he says "...you'll be rotten ere you be half ripe, and that's the right virture of the medlar." Before they can be used, they must be bletted. What does that mean? There are a few fruits that are terribly astringent in their immature stages, most of them are Asian fruits like the durian, loquat, hachiya persimmons, quince and hawthorns. The flesh must be completely mushy before that astringency is transformed into sweetness and acidity.
Tremaine Arkley sells his quince to Park Kitchen, and we ended up in a conversation about medlars, which his wife planted after reading about them in a Victorian novel. He gave me twenty five pounds of fruits to develop recipes this year. Once the medlars have bletted, they are very soft and oozing with juices. They have a very large seed pod and thick skins, much like rose hips. In fact, it was the rose hips that brought medlars to my door. I was watching the squirrels in my yard as they foraged for food. They were nibbling on the rose hips, high in vitamin C and other nutrients. Suddenly, I though of our conversation about the medlars, and I pictured the birds and squirrels feasting on them in the trees. So I called Tremaine, who had forgotten about our conversation, and he rescued the harvest for me.
I have stewed the medlars into a paste, which can then be used for a number of applications both savory and sweet. I've made some medlar frangipane for apple tarts, and simmered them with bourbon as a glaze for braised pork belly. I just put up a batch of medlar bourbon, a simple infusion of quartered medlars, sugar, vanilla bean and bourbon. It should be ready to taste by New Year's Eve.