Most foods are best thrown away when they start to rot, but not medlars. This globose, rather unsightly tree fruit needs to be partially rotted or fermented until its astringent flesh softens and turns sweet, acidulated and toffee apple-like.
Medlars are rarer than they once were but, like many forgotten foods, they can be saved from extinction by keeping them in fashion and on the dinner table. Medlar leaves are also edible in small amounts, and were once commonly used as a medicinal tea to treat the common cold.
Blet (AKA rot) medlars by leaving them spread out in a single layer on a plate or in a box for up to three weeks, until soft and slightly squishy. Eat with a spoon, scooping the flesh straight out of its shell, or serve with clotted cream, whisky, port or a robust, tannic wine. The soft insides also make a delicious instant fool: just stir into whipped cream, custard or yoghurt.
Instead of jelly, where the pulp is usually discarded, fruit cheese is made from the pulp and juice, which is cooked down and set in moulds. I prefer medlar cheese to jelly, because it has bags of flavour, like sweet, ripe apricots, and a grainy texture that cuts well. It’s perfect for serving with cheddar or blue cheese. You can get medlars from a specialised orchard, country garden or any good greengrocer, who will order them in for you.
Medlars, well bletted
Fresh lemon juice
Put the bletted medlars in a thick-based saucepan and add enough water to come halfway up the sides of the fruit. Squash the soft fruit with a potato masher or pestle, then bring the mix to a boil. Turn the heat down low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15-20 minutes.
Tip into a colander set over a bowl and push the pulp through (compost the skin and seeds). Pass through a sieve using the back of a ladle, then weigh the resulting puree. Put it in a clean saucepan with half its weight in unrefined sugar and the juice of half a lemon for every 500g of puree. Cook gently, stirring regularly, for 10-20 minutes, until the mixture turns jammy. Pour into an oiled mould or shallow dish, and refrigerate until set. The “cheese” will last almost indefinitely.