Let the bletting begin
Updated: Dec 8, 2022
Some food stuffs are are fiddly to prepare but are well worth the effort. One such food is the medlar, a fruit which is in danger of disappearing into the annals of time, as it’s popularity has plummeted over the centuries.
It’s easy to see why people don’t clamour over these fruit. Khaki, rock hard and acidic at first they need a good frost to ripen. Then they turn russet brown and become squashy with an unmistakable slightly rancid scent of rotten fruit. As food preservation techniques have been perfected we have become conditioned to treat anything that smells slightly off with caution. I was once told by a former chef that some restaurants used to hang game birds like pheasant until they were almost maggoty but deliciously high. Now you would imagine any restaurant still following this practice would be closed by the Environmental Health Department. It seems such a shame that our obsession with hygiene can lead us to overlook some of natures treasures.
In France the medlar is known as the cul de chien (dog’s arse) which is a tad unfair as I think they are as attractive as any apple or pear. On the continent they are eaten raw in their bletted state (the term given to the ripe fruit). I have to confess I have never tried them raw as I have always found the smell off putting (even I’m not immune to ‘conditioning’). These days they are more commonly grown as ornamental trees with the fruit being largely ignored and left to rot. At my sons’ school there is a medlar tree and for several years I have been gathering the fruit. At first I made medlar jelly and medlar cheese (both of which are very good). Then I came across a medlar vinegar made by Stratta which is dynamite in a salad dressing. I couldn’t help feeling there was far more you do this fruit than turning it into a jelly.
So here is the first of my suggestions for how you can make the most of this strange fruit. This cake also works well with cooked quince purée.
Medlar (or Quince), ginger and apricot cake
225g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cinnamon
150ml sunflower or vegetable oil
225g dark or light brown sugar
2 tbsp ginger syrup
225g medlar or quince purée
50g stem ginger in syrup, chopped
150g dried apricots, roughly chopped (or other dried fruit e.g. raisins).
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease and line a 20cm round springform cake tin.
Sieve the flour, raising agents and spices together into a bowl.
Using an electric whisk or food mixer beat the oil, sugar and ginger syrup in another bowl until well combined. Then add one egg at a time beating well after each addition.
Beat in the medlar or quince purée then fold in the flour and spice mixture. Finally, fold in the chopped stem ginger and apricots (or whichever dried fruit you are using).
Pour the cake batter into the prepared tin the bake for 40-45 minutes until a skewer comes out clean.
Leave to cool in the tin before turning out and slicing.
Replace the ground ginger and cinnamon with 2 tsp mixed spice and the apricots and stem ginger with 150g roughly chopped nuts such as macadamia's, hazelnuts or walnuts. The nuts provide a crunchy contrast to the soft sponge.