Sunday, February 24, 2008

Medlar: The Fruit of Misunderstanding

This month confectioner Pierre Marcolini added medlar to his stable of fruit rich jams at his New York boutique. The concentrated reduction is speckled with Madagascar vanilla, which naturally highlights the fruit’s autumnal flavors. The medlar is no ordinary fruit; it has inspired reverence and revulsion because of its obscure ripening process.

The center of a medlar flower invites curiosity and introspection. Flirtatious stigmas and stamens reflect the self-fertilizing nonchalance of a fruit which is edible when it borders on rotting. As the medlar fruit matures on the tree it resembles an apple with a crown at its bottom. Its nether region is the source of risqué references in literature, including this one from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (II, 1, 34-38):

"Now will he sit under a medlar tree,
And wish his mistress were that kind of fruit
As maids call medlars, when they laugh alone.
O Romeo, that she were, O that she were
An open-arse and thou a poperin pear!"

After medlars are picked they are stored calyx end down and allowed to overripen. This process, referred to as “bletting,” permits the breakdown of starches into sugars. As the flesh softens the inside of a medlar begins to resemble applesauce. It is precisely at this time that notes of cider, spice and the musk of ripe apricots develops. There is short window of time between edible and rotten, which has led to adoration by connoisseurs and disgust by those who cannot contend with the medlar’s fermentation. The fruit is more tenacious than those who have no patience for its obscurity. In addition to being self-pollinating the medlar can set fruit without pollination—nature’s reckoning for those who misunderstand this amazing fruit.

Medlars may be eaten raw, cooked or baked. Jellies are commonly made as the fruit is naturally rich in pectin. Pierre Marcolini’s Medlar Jam tastes great on toast, fresh brioche or with Silk Road Spice Cake, a recipe I’ve developed to complement the flavors in the medlar. The cake is best served warm with touch of jam. If you favor decadence, a scoop of vanilla ice cream will do nicely.

Silk Road Spice Cake
Recipe by Michelle Krell Kydd
Yield: 2 cakes

· 4 cups Arrowhead Mills® Organic Whole Grain Pastry Flour
· 1/3 cup Bob’s Red Mill® Ground Golden Flaxseed Meal
· 1 cup granulated sugar
· 4 teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder
· ½ teaspoon baking soda
· ½ teaspoon salt
· 4 tsp. Penzey's China Cassia Cinnamon
· 2 tsp. ground coriander seeds
· 2 tsp. organic orange zest
· ½ tsp. ground cloves
· 1 tsp. ground allspice
· 1 tsp. ground ginger
· ½ tsp. ground mace
· ½ tsp. ground nutmeg
· 3 tsp. Penzy's Double Strength Vanilla (Madagascar)
· 5 ounces golden raisins (picked through for stems)
· 2 ½ cups low-fat, “no salt added” buttermilk
· ½ cup grapeseed oil
· 4 large egg whites

· Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
· Sift flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add spices and flaxseed meal. Mix all of the dry ingredients together.
· In a separate bowl mix egg whites and vanilla extract.
· In another bowl mix buttermilk, orange zest and grapeseed oil. Add the vanilla and egg white mixture and incorporate.
· Add golden raisins to the buttermilk mixture.
· Make a well in the center of the bowl containing the dry ingredients and add wet ingredients, gently folding until everything is well mixed.
· Fill two 8 ½ x 4 ½ x 2 ¾ greased loaf pans and set on the center oven rack. Bake for approximately 50 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean).
· Remove cakes from the oven and allow them to cool on a wire rack.
· Store cakes in the refrigerator. Slices can be served at room temperature or warmed up.


Pierre Marcolini’s Medlar Jam retails for $16. The store is located at 485 Park Avenue, between 58th and 59th Streets in New York City. 212-755-5150

Photo of medlar flower by Michiel Thomas on Flickr.

Photo of medlar fruit by Anne Miek Bibber on Flickr.

Photo of bletting medlar from The Cat’s Tripe.