Coelacanth Jam* (A thread to update the Medlar Chronicles)

Or coelacanth jelly, I suppose I should say on an American board.

With a few people sharing my interest in medlars (an almost forgotten fruit that has been grown in Britain for thousands of years) – Hi to @Dung_Beetle @CairoCarol @swampspruce @Filbert - I thought I’d post a few updates over the next few weeks. The first major development should be mid-Novemberish, when my purchases are scheduled to be rotten enough to eat. Yes, I did say that.

The story begins in a farm shop in Ockley, Surrey (17 Oct), when I noticed a basket of medlars for sale; I had never heard of a medlar – I had no idea what it was – so I bought a bag. Finding out about the need to blet (ie, half rot) them before you eat them came later, as did the realisation that my friend J would be as intrigued as I was, and therefore I needed to split my find with her (and intrigued she was – biologist and keen gardener, she recognised them without ever having seen one in the flesh).

Splitting my hoard was the proper thing to do, of course, but left me rather light on fruit. Particularly as it turns out that making them into jam/jelly is also a thing, and I had nowhere near enough fruit for even a pilot batch. Mrs Trep did not react well to my suggestion that we should return to Ockley in the hopes of finding more – You don’t even know if you’ll like them, you fool, she said. She had a point. But still.

Then events took a surprising turn. Read on.

j

(*) – in the sense that it is jam made from a living fossil, y’know?

I should have provided a link for medlars above - no matter, here it is. Anyways…

24 Oct: the plan for the day was to go for a walk (and a pub lunch) with our friends D & G, but the weather was not great – wet and windy – so we settled for a pavement/sidewalk stroll around the village of Lingfield and lunch in the Star Inn.

Actually, the walk was quicker than anticipated and so, with time to kill before lunch, we added in a detour or two – it’s a walk Mrs Trep and I know well, but the detours took us to new territory - specifically into a previously unexplored park which contained a community orchard. Orchard. Yeah, you’re way ahead of me – there was a freaking medlar tree! Sixty odd years on this planet, and then on two successive Saturdays I find medlars – incredible!

OK, so these are not my fruit but – possibly because nobody knows what they are – there were many uncollected windfalls all around the tree. I stuffed my coat pockets with about a kilo of them. Supply problems solved - more than enough fruit for a pilot batch of Coelacanth jam/jelly.

The Star Inn, BTW, is excellent.

Anyways: we now move on to equipment, recipe selection and the sourcing of other ingredients. No jam pan, but we’ll just use a big pan instead. Straining bag? I checked out my long-abandoned beer and wine making kit: straining bags? I have seven of them. Why the hell did I have seven? – never mind, one looks suitable. Most recipes seem pretty similar (specimen, specimen) I need lemons, sugar and crab apples. Crab apples grow everywhere round here, I see them all the time when I’m out on the bike, there are some at……at……at…… - I have no idea where there are any crab apples. My mind is completely blank – no, wait, I know where there are some, they grow on The Mount. Sorted. Time to go foraging.

Of course they grow everywhere – I passed some feral apple trees on the way to The Mount. Which is just as well, because when I got to The Mount, the crab apples turned out to be tiny pears. Pears? Whoever heard of feral pears? Hmm – I retraced my steps and went back to the feral apples; I merely logged the find of pears for future investigation and exploitation, and it’s just as well I did because……

j

31 October: Spent the evening with J (the abovementioned biologist, gardener and new medlar enthusiast) and her husband C, at their place. It’s all carefully done – separate tables with bowls of nibbles for each household (you can’t get away from COVID); and on our table, oddly, a large box of chocolates. I’m not one for chocolates, so I left it alone until J said: Open the box.

Ah, not chocolates at all – three huge quinces, which I did recognise, but I have never previously owned one. They have an extraordinary smell (hence the box) – I would have said fruity air freshener gone wrong. (Another friend later suggested acrid mango.) What do you do with them? I asked J? Make jelly, she said.

Did I mention that England is being locked down again? It looks like I will be filling some of my time with the manufacture of jelly from ancient fruits. More updates in due course.

4 Nov: The eve of lockdown #2. J and C are older and will be pretty damn isolated, so we invited them over for The Last Supper (for a month, anyway).

There had been a question for J on my mind: how do you tell the difference between rotted and bletted? Several of my windfall medlars had been rotting – or were they bletting? – so I had isolated them from the rest. During the day I cut one open – brown, squishy pulp – and had a taste. Interesting.

During dinner we had an extra course (with Mrs Trep and C chickening out). My earlier sampling had produced no ill effects, so we ate some bletted/rotted ancient fruit, served with and without cream. Once you get your head around the idea that it’s rotten, they’re fine. The texture is what you’d expect – pulpy, slightly gritty like an over-ripe pear. Sweet like a very ripe date, but also tangy, almost citrus. And they each have five HUGE seeds in them. (This, J tells me, is because they are rose family, as are apples.) Well. Nice, certainly. Well worth trying. To die for? Nah.

5 Nov: I’m still here, no ill effects. Over the next few days/weeks I will make feral apple jelly, then quince and medlar. The first of these is mainly a try-out; I have never made a jelly in my life, and want at least an idea of how it’s going to work before I tackle the ancient fruits.

j

Medlars are your destiny. :mage:

I see Nigel Slater makes a distinction between bletting and rotting. (Nigel, good solid English name, what? According to a Jeopardy question I saw the other day, it’s fallen out of favor, I mean favour. Pity.) Did J agree?

I envy you your bounty of foraged fruits.

Is there disagreement across the pond regarding the meaning of jam and jelly? As an uncouth American, I’d always thought of them as somewhat similar pectin-based concoctions, but jam contains identifiable fruit chunks whereas jelly is clear and smooth, being made with juice rather than pieces of fruit.

I, for one, applaud your efforts to re-awaken the past glory of forgotten fruits! I’m quite looking forward to hearing about the results of your endeavors! I just finished Max Miller’s Sylphium episode on YouTube. I highly recommend it if you haven’t seen it.
Just to be clear are you making jelly or jam? There is a distinction. Jam usually is chunky with bits in it and jelly is strained and clear. It may be worth doing both; and for that matter medlar chutney might be a winner , too. http://shelaghsgarden.blogspot.com/2010/11/medlar-preserving-medlar-apple-chutney.html

ETA: I see you’re making jelly, so now you have a use for the pulp! See above recipe!

Glad it tasted decent!

I need to get another one to try… I just scrumped one from an orchard years ago and I’m not sure if I bletted it right.

Also on the list is of forgotten plants I’d like to try is skirret, which I’ve tried to grow, but the slugs kept getting there first. Anyone ever tried it?

Never even heard of it - a perennial root vegetable? Sounds like a challenge. Likes a well drained soil, though - round here we’re solid clay. My attempt at growing sweet potatoes (for example) was a disaster. But good look if you try it.

@CairoCarol @swampspruce - apologies, the confusion is entirely of my own making. Somewhere along the way I picked up the idea that where I say Jam, and American would say Jelly and so, in an attempt to make myself understood, I have confused the hell out of everyone. It appears that US and UK usage of Jam and Jelly is identical; and the fact that I’m actually trying to make a jelly just adds to the confusion. Sorry. (Where did that headsmack emoji go?)

He kinda does, but he doesn’t tell you what the observable difference is. I’m bletting much the same way he did, so I hope my medlars (the ones we ate!) were bletted, not rotted. Did J agree with what? FWIW, what tipped the balance towards being brave and eating a couple was her observation that the in-blet (as it were) examples from among my windfalls looked exactly the same as the most advanced of her bought fruits.

j

I think the confusion comes from Brit usage of “jelly” is what Americans would just call Jell-O, although that’s technically a proprietary trademark. And Americans do make a distinction between jam, which uses the whole fruit or chunks of fruit in the jar and jelly, which is a jam made only from strained juice–it’s clear, with no chunks in.

And medlars look pretty cool, just like giant rose hips. I’m hoping to move to a place with more land and would like to plant an orchard and weird fruits that are also good to feed critters in winter are favorite.

So do the British actually, it’s just that jam is so much more common than jelly here that the gelatine dessert is the first thing people think of when they hear ‘jelly’, and ‘jam’ has started to include jellies as well. I have old recipe books that have instructions for both, and you can still buy jars of fruit juice based stuff labelled jelly in the shops- like redcurrant jelly.

I figured as much, or else Americans wouldn’t have originally had the two separate words for basically the same thing for ages before gelatine desserts from a box were a thing. It’s just a small linguistic fork. :wink:

The difference between bletting and rotting. Sorry, that Nigel thing threw me off course. :slight_smile:

Ah - I suspected it was that. Thing is, a windfall is a windfall, and it’s fairly likely to rot (given time); but as the in-process rotting/bletting windfalls looked just like the bought medlars that J was bletting, we decided to be brave. If all samples taste the same, we probably got it right. If not - yech! (Retrospectively)

j

Also of note that, while Americans do make a distinction between jelly and jam, it’s not a very strong distinction. If there’s an open jar of jam on the table, and someone were to say “Pass the jelly”, nobody would bat an eye over it. And a “peanut butter and jelly sandwich”, an American staple, may well be made with strawberry jam.

I was rather suspecting, based on the description in the other thread, that medlars would be a member of the apple family. Quince is another pomme that can’t be eaten raw.

Looks like medlars and apples are both part of the rose family so yeah, basically.

MID NOVEMBER UPDATE

Well, my medlars are now bletting for all they are worth. Thing is, they don’t all start at the same time or go at the same rate, so as a precaution every fruit which is completely squishy all round gets dropped in the freezer to maintain it until everyone is ready for medlar jelly manufacture – possibly this week.

Speaking of which, I have been facing up to the issue of approaching this momentous event with the slight disadvantage of never having made a jelly before, and therefore basically having not a clue how it is going to work. So, with this in mind:

4 Nov 2020 – Manufacture of jelly batch #2020-JE-00001 (feral apple). One kilo of feral apples, wash, chop, boil up in a little water. Strain, take the juice, add (lots of!) sugar, boil. Test for setting point (put a few drops from the boil on a cold plate; if it’s ready the surface wrinkles when you poke it); test for setting point; test for setting point; test for setting point; test for setting point; test for setting point; test for setting point. Panic. Add lemon juice (it’s supposed to help) and keep boiling, testing and panicking. After 45 minutes of boiling, a positive test result – works exactly like it’s supposed to! Sheesh. Load into 2 jars. A lot of learning and not much jelly.

Now things start to get serious. Those quinces……

6 Nov 2020 – Manufacture of jelly batch #2020-JE-00002 (quince). 650g of quinces (all I had), wash, chop, boil up in a little water. Strain, reboil the solids, strain again, take the juice, add the juice of a lemon, add (lots of!) sugar, boil. Test for setting point; test for setting point……… you get the idea. Just as I was about to panic again, I noticed that although the setting point test wasn’t happening, the liquid was actually setting on the wooden spoon when it was out of the boil. Aha – another lesson learned. Load into 4 small jars.

The apple jelly is OK – nice enough (if rather lemony) but the quince jelly I’m rather proud of (and it’s getting positive reviews). Reminds me of Turkish delight. Goes very well with cheese.

j

19 Nov 2020 - Manufacture of jelly batch #2020-JE-00003 (medlar).

Except for the fact there was only a single extract this time, this batch went very like the quince. I used the Nigel Slater recipe – he says boil for 2 minutes after adding the sugar; it took 38 minutes before a positive setting point test. I must be doing something wrong, but I don’t know what. The jelly itself is very pleasant, but if I’m honest I think I preferred the quince. Yield: four small jars – one for my mentor J, one for Trep Jr and his girlfriend. We have a stockpile of two jars of each batch of jelly to see us through the festive season, and hopefully to share with (a few) friends if we’re allowed to meet and eat together again.

Conclusions #1. I noted in my last post that when bletting medlars, not all are ready at the same time. You will inevitably have a range of blettedness. Some I used today were really far gone – to the extent that you couldn’t cut them up, even a sharp knife just tore and mushed them, they just fell apart in your hands. So, well - you would taste them, wouldn’t you? I mean, I’ve been working my way up to this, the damn near putrefying ones – and they’re great; really, really nice, with a unique sweet and tangy flavour. It takes quite some time to build up the nerve to do it, but if you get the chance, go for it – it’s definitely worth it. I have five medlars left – I’ll make sure they’re very mushy before I broach them. And you know what? I prefer them rotted and raw to the jelly.

Conclusions #2. Jelly making has been quite the entertaining distraction through Lockdown #2. Sadly, we’re at the time of year now where there are no wild fruits out there to forage for; but we’re not far away from the arrival in shops (hopefully) of Seville oranges for marmalade. And you can always get lemons and limes. Hmmm…

j

Now try making wine with it! Everyone knows that that’s the most profitable way to process Ancient Fruit.

Turns out other researchers are on the case. Examples:

Wine

and intriguingly

Cider

Given the fairly hard time I was given just for making jelly, I think I’ll leave it with the other research groups.

j

It has been my experience that it ALWAYS takes way longer than the recipe says to get jelly to the correct consistency. One thing you can do to move things along though is to keep any skins you peel off of really tart apples in the freezer and toss them into whatever you’re cooking up–the pectin in the apple peels really does the trick without needing you to add all the extra sugar a commercial pectin needs. My daughter is fond of making blackberry (bramble, right?) jelly and that can take for-freaking-ever to jell but the apple skins fix it right up every time.

And for the record, I bet using medlars in cider would be amazing–they’re from the same family so the flavor profiles should be very complementary. I’d try it!