In the garden at Bell House is a magnificent old medlar tree, lending its shade to the gate leading to the walled garden. It’s certainly an ancient tree and may even have been planted by the Wrights, who built Bell House in 1767. Its gnarled branches extend out from the shelter of the garden wall and the trunk leans precariously, requiring a sturdy pole to prop it up.
By rights our medlar tree should be in the kitchen garden, from where it is planted, as its fruit is edible. Medlars need bletting (maturing and softening) before they can be eaten or cooked but once bletted, it has a flavour that’s been likened to both an apple-pear and a super-charged date and can be eaten raw or preserved. The Elizabethans valued its sweetness as a winter food in the days before the arrival of sugar and medlar jelly was popular with the Victorians and Edwardians as a Christmas conserve.
Put some medlars into an earthenware jar, stand it in a saucepan with boiling water nearly to the top and keep it boiling gently over a slow fire. When the medlars are quite soft, pass them through a fine hair sieve, and weigh the pulp, and for every pound allow one and a half breakfast cups of coarsely crushed loaf sugar and half a teaspoonful of allspice. Put all the ingredients together in the preserving pan and stir them over the fire with a wooden spoon until thickly reduced, skimming occasionally. Turn the cheese into moulds and keep them in a cold place.
When ready to serve, turn the cheeses out of themoulds on to a dish.
(The Encyclopedia of Practical Cookery by Theodore Garrett, 1891).
The Bell House medlar tree is very attractive particularly in winter when its intricate twisting stems are highly distinctive. Simple white flowers and glossy green leaves in spring give way to its unusual fruit in autumn. Medlar trees are self-fertile, so you only need one and it is fairly disease and pest resistant, certainly the Bell House medlar is a healthy specimen despite its age. In the autumn we hope to make medlar jelly from the Bell House tree, we’ll keep you posted.
If you are interested in Bell House's beautiful Georgian garden you might like to join our lovely garden volunteers. Just turn up on Saturday mornings from 9.30-11.30. Novices, experts and all ages welcome, coffee, croissants and friendly co-workers provided.