Jane Steward is passionate about medlars and spreading word of this forgotten fruit, once common in English gardens. In 2016 she established Eastgate Larder making medlar jelly and fruit cheese using Norfolk grown medlars, including fruit from her own smallholding. Her award-winning medlar preserves are presented in exquisite jars. They pair beautifully with cheeses and charcuterie, add depth to sauces, and taste equally good spread on hot toast. Recently Clare caught up with Jane to find out whether this year is looking good for her orchard and what new recipes she has been stirring up on her kitchen Aga.
Is 2018 going to be a good one for your medlar trees?
JS: I am still relatively new to growing medlars but it does seem that the weather of 2018 is working well for my trees. We had a cold winter followed by rain and then this current period of dry, hot weather. This pattern seems to be suiting the trees, perhaps because it is similar to the climate of their ancestors. Thousands of years ago medlars originated in the Caspian region of Northern Iran where they would have experienced cold winters and long hot summers.
All one hundred young Nottingham trees in my orchard are now productive. This spring they were covered in stunning blossom and had a good setting rate. Come the autumn, I am looking forward to a plentiful harvest.
What have you been doing recently in your quest to revive interest in medlars?
JS: I am always keen to encourage others to start growing medlar trees themselves. Recently I have spoken at a number of local gardening clubs to share my experience of growing medlars. These groups are also interested in visiting my orchard to see the trees in situ.
I am working to have my orchard here in North Norfolk recognised as a National Collection Orchard. Alongside the Nottingham trees we have six other varieties of medlars, including Dutch Monstrous, Westerveld and Elizabeth Garret Andersen, and plans to introduce three further ones. Not only is it important to revive interest in medlars as a fruit but also the blossom of the trees makes an important contribution to the success of honeybees for whom the petals make a perfect landing pad.
Lastly, I have published a little pamphlet called "The Medlar - Our Forgotten Fruit" which is a quick skim through British history and the associated fortunes of medlars.
Have any new medlar recipes been bubbling on your Aga this year?
JS: This summer sees the launch of our new, limited edition "Spicy Medlar Chutney". Made at the end of January and carefully matured for over six months, this chutney is a very special blend of medlars with apple and lots of red chilly, fresh ginger, garlic, fenugreek, cumin, turmeric and more. Hot, spicy and delicious! It is great with a curry; also cheeses and cold meats. I am very excited to bring this new product to market in a small number of carefully selected outlets including Slate.
How is your business expanding?
JS: I am thrilled to say that Eastgate Larder is going from strength to strength. This year has seen our products spread beyond East Anglia. Our jars can now be found on the shelves of around forty independent specialist retailers, each stockist handpicked to ensure the right fit for the product and a shared mind set towards curating endangered foods. I have made fabulous connections via personal relationships and social media. Also in the chilly days of March I hit the road with the wonderful Sarah Pettegree of Bray's Cottage, sharing tasters of pork pies and medlar preserves from here to the Cotswolds and back.
Do you have any new favourite pairings to suggest for your preserves and what medlar delights can we look forward?
JS: Having become friends with the incredible Julie Cheyney of Whitewood Dairy, I love the combination of Eastgate Larder medlar jelly with her superb cheeses St Jude and St Cera. The tart sweetness of medlars sits extremely well with the lactic freshness of her cheeses.
In the pipeline we have medlar beer, which will be launched this the autumn in collaboration with local brewery, Wild Craft Brewery. And next year there are plans for a medlar gin. I am undertaking product trials at present - medlar gin cocktails, tasting perfect in my sunhat!