I can’t help noticing that jars of medlar jam don’t take up much space in our local supermarkets. In fact, they’re noticeable by their absence.
Well, to me at least. So it appears that the only way of finding out whether it’s worth making the stuff is … to make it.
First catch your medlar(s), as Mrs Beeton might have said, or not. All the experts say that the end of November is the best time to pick one’s medlars. That’s the time when they will be just starting to ripen.
“Ripen” … err, yes. “Go rotten” would be a better way of putting it. But, strangely, that’s just what is needed. Medlars need to be in a state of decomposition in order to be suitable for eating or cooking. Well, my timing does seem to be about right. There are medlars on the tree …
… and also on the ground. I’ve put off pruning this tree for far too long. The fruit look like small misshapen apples. But in fact medlars are members of the Rosaceae family – roses. So the fruit of the medlar (or Mespilus, to give it its official designation) are effectively rose hips. I’d prune apples in about April, avoiding pruning off the fruiting spurs, of course; but in my book roses need shortening in autumn. No excuse that we moved in last June. But I’ll hope for a slight rise in temperature and catch up then.
The colours of the fallen medlar leaves seem to me the very definition of autumn.
I don’t eat much jam. I’m more a marmalade person, though only at breakfast. My media buying company, Fox Media, worked on the Tiptree business (Wilkin & Sons) many years ago, planning and buying advertising campaigns for them. It was quite an interesting business, completely geared to the tsunami of fruit of all kinds that suddenly matured at the end of the season, on their 1,000 acre estate. I see they do a medlar jelly, which is clear; not sure I can be bothered with straining through a muslin cloth and all that. So it’ll be jam for me, bits and all.
Interesting to find out how many different types of jam there are, though. And people make some very unusual jams (fancy some Raspberry and Chocolate?).
Well, I’ve picked the fruit off the tree and gathered up the windfalls. In terms of numbers, I’d say it was half and half – 50% on the tree, 50% on the ground.
Doesn’t look as though I’ll get many jars. And how long will the jam take to mature? As I recall from previous jam making exploits, it’s best to leave the stuff for a few weeks. So no “jam tomorrow”.
I first heard that expression as a boy. When we moved in to our new bungalow (I was about ten years old), the road wasn’t ‘made up’. In contrast to the carefully tended new gardens of the bungalows, it remained a muddy, potholed street for four or five months. My father wrote and complained to the council and made numerous phone calls. Eventually, in exasperation, he wrote to the local paper, explaining his frustration at being fobbed off by the council with their “jam tomorrow”, as he put it, promises. The letter got published in a prime spot on the Letters Page, under the quite clever heading “Tomorrow’s jam?” – and in a matter of days surveyors turned up and work started on the road in rapid order.
The origin of the phraselet “Jam tomorrow” is in fact Lewis Carroll‘s “Through the Looking Glass and what Alice found there”. The White Queen explains that jam is served every other day, and as today isn’t an “other” day, there will be no jam. “The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday – but never jam to-day”.
Now then, I think the first thing to do is to sort the medlars into rotten ones and the ones that are still hard.
I’ll store the others on a tray and wait for them to rot. How very strange … but this is definitely the prescribed method. And, to be fair, although they look revolting, they do taste delicious. So delicious, indeed, that D. H. Lawrence wrote about them in his poem Medlars and Sorb-Apples. Here’s an extract.
I love you, rotten,
I love to suck you out from your skins
So brown and soft and coming suave,
So morbid, as the Italians say.
What a rare, powerful, reminiscent flavour
Comes out of your falling through the stages of decay:
Stream within stream.
Something of the same flavour as Syracusan muscat wine
Or vulgar Marsala.
Though even the word Marsala will smack of preciosity
Soon in the pussy-foot West.
What is it?
What is it, in the grape turning raisin,
In the medlar, in the sorb-apple,
Wineskins of brown morbidity,
What is it that reminds us of white gods?
Gods nude as blanched nut-kernels,
Strangely, half-sinisterly flesh-fragrant
As if with sweat,
And drenched with mystery.
Anyway, I’ve tried squeezing the flesh out and that doesn’t seem to work. I’ve just about managed to get most of it with a teaspoon and put it all into a saucepan.
It’s interesting that The White Queen talked about jam as being a treat, with which sentiment most of us would concur. So, why is it that when we get into difficulties, we talk about being “in a jam”? I suppose the implied image is that we’re in a sticky situation, rather like an insect that’s fallen into a jam pot.
Let’s pour on some water and add some sugar …
Now, did you notice that I used the phrase “just about managed”? Actually, the last few weeks have seen the rise and rise of a new application of the word “jam” (although the expression seems to have been bubbling under for some time). The “JAM”s are the people who are “Just About Managing“, the “squeezed middle” group who are still solvent but are finding the going quite difficult financially. Where would we be without acronyms?
Well my jam has been bubbling away for about 15 minutes or so. To think that Wilkin & Sons go to all this trouble every day … amazing.
I’ve got some old jam jars but what to do for labels? All I’ve got are some old Fox Media labels.
I don’t think it’ll win any design awards. But it’s the taste that counts. Well, here we go. I’ll start spooning the mixture into the jar …
Oh dear, only enough for one jar – but it’s filled nearly to the top. I must confess, it does look a bit murky. But no doubt it will make up in quality what it lacks in quantity.
And if I survive the initial tasting, at breakfast in a few weeks time, who knows? I might have a whole new business on my hands!