Autumn in Norfolk. The air is moistening and a fine mist floats on the paddocks. We’re approaching the time of the medlar harvest. The sun, now a late bloom, has browned and textured their skins through the summer. Soon they will be laid out to soften, the last bounty before leaf fall, their hearts rich with the savours of ripe fruit and sweet wood.
At Eastgate in rural North Norfolk, among our fruit, vegetables and deciduous woodland, medlars are our passion. We’re reviving this long forgotten, old English fruit which was once Britain’s sweet treat. Our Nottingham trees are rarely found in British commercial orchards, with one notable exception in Essex. They’re alive with colour for much of the year: white and yellow flowers in the summer, green leaves that turn to gold and russet. Grafted onto quince A rootstock, and helped by local honey bees, these are productive trees. Their fruit is one of the most flavoursome and reliable varieties to grow in the UK.
Alongside the Nottinghams, we’re establishing a national culinary collection on our six-acre smallholding. Varieties include Breda , Dutch, Westerveld, Macrocarpa, Royal, Bredase Reus, Flanders Giant, Iranian medlar.
THE STORY OF MEDLARS
The medlar, mespilus germanica, was popular in the UK and Europe for hundreds of years. It’s mentioned in the works of Chaucer, Shakespeare and DH Lawrence.
The tree’s true homeland is on the western shores of the Caspian sea. Believed by many to have healing properties, the fruit was enjoyed by the ancient Assyrians and Babylonians.
By the 17th century, medlars were common in English gardens and were regularly brought to market well into the 19th century. They became unfairly neglected from the early 20th century as a wider range of fruit and othe foods became available.
These days, medlar trees may be found in private gardens where they are prized for their ornamental qualities and as forage for bees.
I encountered my first medlars in our former Cambridgeshire garden, where my husband had planted a tree given to him by his late father. Intrigued, I hunted for recipes, but few were to be found. This encouraged me to experiment, refining and developing recipes from what I’d read. Food writer Nigel Slater has been struck by the number of requests he receives for medlar recipes from keen preservers and cooks.
When we moved to Eastgate, I became a committed grower of fruit, vegetables and flowers. We discovered recently that our plot was a fruit farm around 100 years ago, with Bramleys, pears and blackcurrants. It’s a joy to know that we’re continuing a long tradition of growing fruit here.
In 2015, I was fortunate to be cured of a stage 1 bowel cancer, thanks to the Norfolk & Norwich Hospital’s screening programme. Digging and planting were vital to my therapy. That experience profoundly strengthened my connection to this special place. My passion for growing, harvesting and making are essential to who I am.
My medlar preserves are made with fruit grown in Norfolk, increasingly at Eastgate. Medlar jelly is delicious served with game and other meats, hot or cold. A spoonful enriches sauces and may also be served as a condiment. It’s lovely with soft cheeses. Our fruit cheese is a preserve of set medlar fruit puree, which is especially well suited to hard and soft cheeses. Some people enjoy it spread on hot toast. These are available in 100g jars. The gift box contains a 65g jar of each and tasting notes.
Each year I make 500 jars of limited edition spicy medlar chutney. It’s fragrant with fresh ginger, garlic and chilli. From next year it will be available in 240g jars. It’s delicious with cheese, cold meat and curry. It’s awesome in a cheese toastie.
HARVESTING AND PREPARING THE FRUIT
Medlars are the last of our fruit to be harvested at Eastgate, usually in early November. The pale green fruit softens and mellows through bletting on trays in a cool place, until it’s ready to eat, or to make into jelly, fruit cheese or our spicy chutney.
Back to the Garden, Letheringsett, NR25 7JJ
Blofield Farm Shop, 58 Yarmouth Road, NR13 4LQ
Christie & Son, Fakenham, Dereham, Swaffham, Reepham markets and online
Creake Abbey Food Hall, NR21 9LF
Diane’s Pantry, Reepham, NR10 4JJ
Flint Vineyard, Earsham, NR35 2AH
Holkham Hall Gift Shop, NR23 1AB
Jarrolds Deli and Foodhall, Norwich, NR2 1AT
Old Hall Farm, Woodton, NR35 2LP
Norfolk Deli, Hunstanton, PE36 6AA
St Giles Pantry, 95a Upper St Giles, Norwich, NR2 1AB
The Studio, East Harling, NR16 2LW
Walsingham Farms Shop, Little Walsingham, NR22 6BU
G.F. White Butchers, Aylsham, NR11 6ER
Pangbourne Cheese, Pangbourne, RG8 7LU
Jigsaw Bakery, Linton, CB21 4JT
Cotswold Cheese, Moreton – in – Marsh, GL56 0AH
Cotswold Cheese, Stow – on – the – Wold, GL54 1BN
Proudfoot & Co, 30 St Thomas Street, Winchester, SO23 9HF
Cheese Plate, Buntingford, SG9 9AQ
Little Hadham Stores, Little Hadham, SG11 2DX
Jericho Cheese, Oxford, OX1 2HU
Northfield Farm, Whissendine Lane, Cold Overton, LE15 7QF
Daisy & Tilly’s Shop on the Hill, 13a Lyth Hill Road, Bayston Hill, SY3 0EW
Earsham Street Deli, Bungay, NR35 1AF
Grange Farm Shop, Grundisburgh Road, Woodbridge, IP13 6HN
Pinney’s of Orford, The Old Warehouse, Quay St, Orford, IP12 2NU
Slate Cheese & Provisions, Aldeburgh, IP15 5AQ
Slate Cheese, Southwold, IP18 6HZ
The Farm, Snitterfield, Stratford-on-Avon, CV37 0QA
Fridge of Plenty, 132 Crouch Hill, N8 9DX
General Store, Bellenden Road, SE15 4BW
Laura’s Larder, 3 Fairway, Petts Wood, BR5 1EF
Lidgates, 110 Holland Park Avenue, W11 4UA
Melrose & Morgan, Primrose Hill, 42 Gloucester Avenue, NW1 8JD
Neal’s Yard Dairy, Park Street, SE1 9AB
Nutkin Kitchen, Unit 4 Print Village, 58 Chadwick Road, SE15 4PU
Partridges, Duke of York Square, SW3 4LY
pistachio & pickle dairy, Camden Passage, N1 8ED
RETAIL CUSTOMERS/ONLINE SHOP
MEMBERSHIPS AND ASSOCIATIONS
We are members of Proudly Norfolk
The Proudly Norfolk label acknowledges our passion and the integrity of our products. For you, this signals that our preserves are handmade in Norfolk, using Norfolk ingredients where possible.