Medlar jelly

Despite the general distractions of life, I managed to gather a fair proportion of the medlars, which by November were falling from the tree. The medlar is the only new tree so far to give a good crop of fruit. Most of the fruit trees were planted in 2018, so they’re five years old, and generally look healthy, and flower well, but are giving between “some” and “no” fruit (YES “Fairleigh” damson tree I AM looking at you).

I put the medlars in the utility room and within a couple of weeks they had “bletted” and were ready to eat / use. Raw medlars are good with cheese, but I don’t regularly eat a cheese course after dinner, so wanted to find some other way to use them.

The medlars are strangely attractive to ladybirds
The freshly gathered fruit – still firm and green in the middle, no good to eat yet

Medlars are tasty, but even once you’ve bletted them, they are not easy to eat; the pulp inside the “hip” is good, but there are plenty of seeds and fibrous bits. So this year, I tried boiling them medlars for syrup.

The medlars rise to the top as they cook, and can be squished with a spoon
Post squishing, the fruit sink down again…

I strained the juice overnight through muslin. It’s a shame to waste so much of the fruit pulp, but I just did not have the time or energy to separate pulp from skin, seeds and fibre this year. The juice didn’t look particularly promising, but I froze a box of it to use later for a flavoured mead, and made the rest into jelly.

8 lbs medlars and 11 pints water yielded about 6 pints of juice.

Medlar Jelly
  • 3 pints strained medlar juice
  • 3 lbs granulated sugar
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 bottle (125 ml) “Certo” apple pectin.

I boiled the jelly for a good hour and a half before it finally reached a setting point. This was much longer than I expected, as the Certo is meant to reduce cooking time and improve set. On initial tasting, I thought there was too much lemon juice, but actually it’s fine. The jelly gradually turned a very pleasing clear orangy colour, and has a delicate flavour. It’s a bit stickier than would be ideal because of the long boiling – it’s on the verge of turning into caramel – another time, maybe more Certo? For traditional jellies like blackberry, I use unripe apples in August / September, which are chock full of pectin. As the medlars aren’t ready to use until December, the apples are far too ripe to provide pectin.

The finished jelly, with two medlars that I left uncooked for their story value (and indeed gave to a friend a few weeks later)

The rest of the juice is in the freezer and I plan to try making a mead with honey, medlar juice and apples. This will be a longer term project!

Protecting the harvest

The heritage apple trees are still not producing much fruit and I’ve scoffed what there was. But the old Bramley in our garden has given us many fine apples. Last year, we stored a good number but the rats, not surprisingly, made a bee-line for them (surely you can’t have too many animals in a metaphor) and deprived us of several trays of good apples.

Al, being the hero that he is, has reinforced the apple store, which lives in one of the guard-rooms in the gatehouse, with wire mesh. This is of course not historically authentic! Vermin-proof food storage will have been a perennial problem, with grain stores raised on ‘mushrooms’, sealed pits and other strategies used with presumably varying degrees of success.

I almost filled the store with the best apples, as they should keep for longest. We still have a good number in the kitchen that need to be used up asap. Stewed apple for breakfast, crumble for supper…it’s a rough life.

Clearing up windfalls

Some of the Bramley apple harvest
Apples going in to store
Let’s hope the rats can’t open a bolt…

The lone Hambledon

The orchard continues to be a mystery to me…the apple and pear trees planted in 2018 are still not producing significant fruit. This year the pears flowered profusely, there were no late frosts, but nevertheless, the fruit that set all fell and we have no pears. The Wyken Pippin has a few apples, and the Hambledon Deux Ans produced one solitary apple – but it was large, much larger than its few fruit last year.

Reluctant to pick it before it ripened, I left it on the tree; the Hambledon is supposed to be a great keeper. But the other day, it had vanished off the bough, and I found it on the ground – fortunately intact. I therefore cut it up and ate it. Some of the flesh was already discolouring, so it clearly wasn’t a great apple and wouldn’t have kept any longer. But the flesh that was ok tasted nice; it’s been described as a cooking apple, and I found it a bit sweeter than a Bramley but quite tart.

What’s up with the trees? I don’t know. The mature eating apple tree in the orchard (variety unknown) has some excellent fruit but many small and malformed fruit. Is this a disease? Is it too warm in the winter? It’s not been a drought year, nor has it flooded, so it’s a mystery to me. I keep hoping that *next* year, the new pears and apples will start to produce.

In the meantime, there are many medlars!

Spring snow and flowers

Helleborus niger; a member of the buttercup family, and poisonous

OMG it’s the end of the first quarter of 923, the equinox is past and here I am writing just after the Feast Day of that most learned and well-travelled princess Saint Hildelith, abbess of Barking. The black hellebore or “Christmas rose” is flowering in fine style. This is a plant of complex character, a winter flower bringing hope of spring, a medicine and a poison. I read that:

Treating intestinal worms lasted into the 18th century. The only drawback was that the patient might end up being killed together with the worms.

https://poisonousplants.ansci.cornell.edu/christmasrose/christmasrose.html

This comes as a surprise to me; I deliberately avoided planting what I knew to be toxic plants such as foxglove and aconite in the Rumwoldstow garden, but hellebore passed me by, partly because the hellebore is such a garden staple. So, erm, whoops! It is out of place in the food-and-flowers garden, and belongs in a medicinal garden with health warnings. It reinforces the message that you should be awfully cautious of eating random plants from the garden…

Moving swiftly on, here are some snaps of the light snowfall we had earlier in March, as viewed on a walk through Rumwoldstow to the end of the orchard and back.

Tree pruning

An orchard in February doesn’t look like much, but there are promises of spring appearing – snowdrops, catkins, and swelling buds on the trees. High time to prune those apple and pear trees!

Our first task was to prune the older tree, which we’ve been gradually reshaping to a proper ‘tree’ shape (it had grown very siiiiiiideways due to the light from the south being blocked). We went at it somewhat cautiously, pruning a bit at the ends, and removing branches that crossed each other, or went too much straight up.

The variety is unknown but it produces nice eating apples.

The unknown variety mature apple tree, after pruning

The Hambledon Deux Ans got a bit of a trim, as did the Wyken Pippin. This latter is such a sturdy tree now, and has kind of gone sideways, so Al removed the protective frame around it. We’ve kind of decided to keep livestock out of the orchard now, as it’s clear that the fruit will always be low enough to be munched even by sheep. And the frame was very rickety. But it may be reused later.

Hambledon Deux Ans apple; still the smallest tree in the orchard
Wyken Pippin apple, now released! And a good tree-shaped tree it is.
Uvedale St Germain pear, just a few bits trimmed as it’s a pretty good shape already
Portugal quince; seems to have no main trunk, just lots of twiddly branches! I clipped them in a bit.
Pears planted nearly two years ago: Jargonelle and Winter Nelis. They didn’t grow much, being swamped with nettles, so I didn’t take anything off them. We’ll try to give them more light and hope for better growth this year.

Last apples from 2022

Stored apples 29 January 2023

Candlemas has been and gone, marking the beginning of the end of winter, and the first signs of spring as the days lengthen. Indeed the name of the coming Christian period of fasting, Lent, derives from the Old English ‘lencten’ meaning ‘lengthen’.1 Although rats ate most of the good eating apples in the apple store – and this would be a disaster in a farming community, and we’ll have to rat-proof the store for next year – the Bramley apples proved less tempting and although there were some depredations, most were left for our use. Their keeping properties were mixed, with some surviving well and others decaying. By January they were mostly showing their age with brown fibres appearing in the flesh. On the 29th January 2023 we brought the remaining apples in to the kitchen.

Over the last week I’ve worked through them, and about one in three has eatable flesh now. If I’d been more organised I could have stewed and bottled or frozen vast amounts of good apple, but I just didn’t have the time and energy. I started eating the Bramley apples in August of 2022, as they were sharp but OK cooked, and they made excellent jelly then as they contain more pectin while unripe. So the tree has kept me in apples for about six months.

The trees now need pruning, and I have of course no idea what kind of harvest we will get this year, but I hope for a few more of the new apples, and that I’ll manage to look after the fruits better.

The Hambledon Deux-ans

Last year for the first time we got a couple of apples from the young Hambledon Deux-ans apple tree, planted nearly five years ago now. It was the tree that was most munched by enthusiastic young cows in its first year and I’m honestly chuffed that it’s alive at all. I put the apples in the dining room and kept meaning to move them somewhere cooler but never got round to it, and finally decided to just eat them!

All things considered, I think the apple didn’t do too badly; more than half of it was eatable, though very tart. I can see why it’s described as a cooker. Fingers crossed the tree will do better this year, though with the hazards of drought and late frost, it’s an absolute unknown quantity.

Yew tree and moonlight

Our good friend the Bogwitch made a reappearance over the midwinter festival and despite her incomprehensible ramblings in some strange language, she bore a gift! A yew tree, without which indeed no chapel or church is complete, and it has absolutely no pagan significance whatsoever. It’s on the small side and it’ll probably continue to live in a pot, as we don’t want it to be out in the orchard where livestock might nibble it. Yew is toxic, leaf berry and wood, so don’t mess with it.

Ah, I haven’t introduced you to the Bogwitch. Well, that’s something to look forward to! She’s….a bit of a character.

Anyway, yes, here’s a lovely tree. It needs a bit more soil in the pot, if it only stops raining for long enough I’ll get out there and fix it up.

I awoke before dawn (not so hard in early January) and was lured outside by the shimmer of moonlight on water…Lake Meadow is flooded good and proper, and looked very pretty.

As it was about 6am the moon, though full, wasn’t very high in the sky. But still, you get the idea, and it was well worth getting out of bed for. And I’m impressed that the camera on my phone managed to make any sense of the scene!

The second pippin

A few months ago, Brother Alf scavenged a few apples for me from a tree growing wild nearby. It is on the edge of a small thicket of unmanaged woodland and An Expert has said it looks like a pippin – that is, a tree that grew from seed, probably from a commercial apple which somebody cast aside (well, the core thereof). I ate one of the apples immediately, sent the second to The Expert, and kept the third one until yesterday. It shrivelled up but proved sound and still very tasty.

So the apples are at least moderately good keepers – still good in late December – and in the spring I will try to get The Expert to graft some cuttings so we can have a legit instance of the tree in our orchard.

Sadly, the local rats have discovered the apple store, which we really shouldn’t have left in a doorless gatehouse but there was literally nowhere better to put it, and they have carefully eaten all the sweet eating apples. Last time I looked there were only the Bramleys left which are better than nothing but not as good when eaten raw, and some of them are going brown inside. For next year we will need to ratproof the store somehow. The traditional method for a granary is to raise it on “mushrooms”, shaped blocks that the rats can’t climb up. But a modern person would perhaps use wire mesh. The loss sucks, but definitely gives one an idea of life in an agrarian society where loss of stored food is a disaster. And where you have to be a bit more on the case 🙁

Introducing “ginger nun”

We are still rich in apples, they are literally falling off the tree now…we picked all the good apples from the “eater” in the Rumwoldstow orchard, but the Bramley in the garden continues to provide windfalls from above even after we picked the low-hanging fruit. To this end I am road-testing what I call “ginger nun”, a variant on “peasant girl with veil” (a traditional Danish recipe of stewed apple topped with fried, sweetened breadcrumbs, cream and grated chocolate).

I’ve left out the chocolate, and instead of sugar, I’ve mixed honey and ginger with the butter in which the breadcrumbs were fried.

Will “ginger nun” prove a winner or a sinner?

This made use of a good-sized colander full of the better windfalls, which had a good amount of usable fruit on each. We then picked up and sorted today’s windfalls – three buckets full! – and took them to the cows on Lake Meadow.

I was lazy and didn’t break all the apples up. Cows find whole apples hard to bite into…
And easy to drop!
Brother Alf took pity and stomped the apples into submission