Mary Kemp

Mary meets a Nor­folk grower re­viv­ing an his­toric fruit

EDP Norfolk - - Inside - Mary Kemp

The re­vival of the mar­vel­lous med­lar

THIS month my culi­nary jour­ney has taken me to East­gate, near Caw­ston. Hav­ing just or­dered a med­lar tree for our gar­den, I wanted to learn more about this an­cient fruit and who bet­ter to talk to than Jane Stew­ard, founder of East­gate Larder. Jane is the maker of the most beau­ti­ful, jewel-like med­lar jel­lies and fruit cheese, which can be served with meat, pies, patés and cheese.

Over the years this fas­ci­nat­ing, pe­cu­liar-look­ing fruit has been given sev­eral hu­mor­ous de­scrip­tive names, though not al­ways com­pli­men­tary, with the French call­ing it the ‘cul de chien’, or dog’s bot­tom! They have ap­peared through cen­turies of our food his­tory, but med­lars are not na­tive to Bri­tain.

It is thought that they orig­i­nally came from the Caspian re­gion; they were eaten by the Ro­mans and were men­tioned in records through­out the 13th cen­tury. Dur­ing me­dieval times they were grown in or­chards pro­vid­ing win­ter fruit and nour­ish­ment, and were also ap­pre­ci­ated for their medic­i­nal qual­i­ties, es­pe­cially for di­ges­tion disor­ders.

You will find med­lars men­tioned in the writ­ings of Chaucer, Shake­speare and D H Lawrence. The fruit fell out of favour with the Ed­war­dians as they were in­tro­duced to more fash­ion­able treats for the fruit bowl.

Al­though they did plant the trees, they were grown mostly as or­na­men­tal ones. You will find a med­lar tree in the grounds of Nor­wich Cathe­dral.

Since mov­ing to Nor­folk Jane has be­come a com­mit­ted grower of fruit and veg­eta­bles. Her beau­ti­ful gar­den is set out in small or­chards, with many ar­eas ded­i­cated to med­lar trees. Jane and her hus­band David re­cently learnt that their gar­den was a fruit farm 100 years ago; this seems in­cred­i­bly ap­pro­pri­ate as they are cre­at­ing a na­tional col­lec­tion of old med­lar va­ri­eties, con­tin­u­ing a won­der­ful legacy of knowl­edge and his­tory.

For Jane’s jelly and fruit cheese pro­duc­tion they have planted 101 Not­ting­ham med­lar trees, grafted onto quince root­stock. This va­ri­ety of­fers the best com­bi­na­tion of size and flavour; they are easy to grow and are self-fer­tile.

In the spring the blos­som starts as white buds, spread­ing into beau­ti­ful large flow­ers, of­fer­ing land­ing pads for hon­ey­bees, which love them. Then in the au­tumn the leaves turn a deep, bril­liant red, which fall to re­veal the green­ish brown fruit, dis­play­ing the rea­son for their an­cient French name!

The fruit are har­vested in early Novem­ber. Picked while still pale green, the fruit are then laid on trays to ripen and mel­low in a cool place; this stage is called blet­ting.

Jane has spent time ex­per­i­ment­ing, re­fin­ing and de­vel­op­ing her recipes, and is sell­ing her prod­ucts across East Anglia and Lon­don. She gath­ers the fruit from the trees in her or­chard, but in ad­di­tion to this, Jane also picks med­lars from other sources across Nor­folk. She will barter for the value of the fruit, and will hap­pily set­tle on a char­ity do­na­tion, spon­sor­ship of a lo­cal project or some jars of med­lar jelly.

I look for­ward to be­ing on the list of her fruit grow­ers.

There is more about East­gate Larder at east­gate­ If you have a fruit­ing med­lar tree Jane would be de­lighted to hear from you too.

Above: Jane Stew­ard and some of her pro­duce

Be­low: the fruit af­ter blet­ting

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