Christmas is a time of domestic involvement. Many of the visible tokens of celebration-the decoration of the house and the presents-for friends-are in fact family projects that are relaxing and pleasurable. But four weekends before Christmas are the perfect time for gatherings, getting new ideas for Christmas in the Advent markets! The last two weekends I got the Advent bug and I visited two different cities in Germany to get in the Advent mood.
During the first weekend of December I went to Ludwigsburg’s Baroque Christmas Market (It is only 250 kms from München, circa 2 hours 45 minutes by car). The huge Castle was surrounded by arcades with its festively decorated stands were a winter dream came true. Arches and gates made of thousands of tiny light bulbs welcomed the visitors to the over 170 Christmas booths and majestic angels spread their glittering wings to bless the scene. The two baroque churches were also festively illuminated. The typical symmetry of a baroque city and garden architecture was the model for the layout of the Ludwigsburg Christmas market.
We breathed in the scents of mulled wine, the roasted chestnuts and gingerbread. However we didn’t have time to participate in some festive concert, but we were enchanted by the uniquely decorated market stalls and the adorned stalls offering traditional arts and crafts that made perfect presents for the family members.
I can recommend this place to everyone! According to my daughters during Christmas season this castle is more than just a visit. The Christmas market and the nearby pedestrian area with its numerous shopping opportunities will make your Christmas shopping a real pleasure. Go and enjoy Ludwigsburg with its Christmas flair!
The second magical event awaited us was the Ravennaschlucht-Ravenna gorge Christmas market which is held every weekend from December 1st-to the 23d. It’s a circa 3-hour drive from the KMC and under 2 hours from Stuttgart. Imagine a small village full of wooden houses, the scent of mulled wine and cinnamon in the air, snow covered mountains and fairy lights everywhere you look. Need I say more? This truly unique market was located in a romantic gorge. Free shuttle buses left at Hinterzarten and Himmelreich every thirty minutes; parking was available at the train stations as well. (But be careful parking closer to the market has to be reserved in advance). Because we didn’t make parking reservation therefore we parked in a village near by, called Hinterzarten. And then we saw Xmas bus which took us for free to that beautiful place under an old bridge. Admission was free. Can you imagine? Medieval music, scents of “Glühwein” and sweets, deco lights and torches, creeks and mountains…it’s unbelievable such the fantastic hot chocolate and the deer burger!
Hot chocolate drink: 250 ml milk, 150 ml cream, 75 g bittersweet chocolate, vanilla sugar or extract, 2 tbsp brown sugar, cinnamon and ginger bread spices
Methods: Melt chocolate. Cook milk and cream together but don’t let them boil. Stir melted chocolate in and flavor with 2 tbsp sugar and the vanilla sugar. Scatter some cinnamon powder and ginger bread spices on the top and enjoy!
The final season is approaching and the first of the season’s months draws the family together. Almost eleven months have already passed with probably too few table occasions, however November and specially December see the grand finale of the year, holding a true spirit of festivity as our preparations and gatherings lead us to 25 december.
But in Belgium the festivities traditionally begin each year in mid-November (the first Saturday after 11 November), when Sinterklaas “arrives” by a steamboat at a designated seaside town, supposedly from Spain. (Okay he traditionally rides a white horse. In the Netherlands, the horse is called Amerigo and in Belgium, it is named Slecht Weer Vandaag, it means “Bad Weather Today”.)
In the Netherlands this takes place in a different port each year, whereas in Belgium it always takes place in the city of Antwerp. The steamboat anchors, then Sinterklaas disembarks and parades through the streets on his horse, welcomed by children cheering and singing traditional Sinterklaas songs. His Zwarte Piet assistants throw candy and small, round, gingerbread-like cookies, either kruidnoten or pepernoten, into the crowd. The event is broadcast live on national television in the Netherlands and Belgium. Following this national arrival, every other town celebrates its own intocht van Sinterklaas (arrival of Sinterklaas). Local arrivals usually take place later on the same Saturday of the national arrival, the next Sunday (the day after he arrives in the Netherlands or Belgium), or one weekend after the national arrival. In places a boat cannot reach, Sinterklaas arrives by train, horse, horse-drawn carriage or even a fire truck.
Sinterklaas is assisted by many mischievous helpers with black faces and Moorish dresses. These companions are called Zwarte Piet (“Black Pete”). His colorful dress is based on 16th-century noble attire, with a ruff (lace collar) and a feathered cap. He is typically depicted carrying a bag which contains candy for the children. The Zwarte Pieten toss their candy around, a tradition supposedly originating in the story of Saint Nicholas saving three young girls from prostitution by tossing golden coins through their window at night to pay their dowries.
Traditionally, he would also carry a birch rod, a chimney sweep’s broom made of willow branches, used to spank children who had been naughty. Some of the older Sinterklaas songs make mention of naughty children being put in Zwarte Piet’s bag and being taken back to Spain. This part of the legend refers to the times that the Moors raided the European coasts, and as far as Iceland, to abduct the local people into slavery. This quality can be found in other companions of Saint Nicholas such as Krampus and Père Fouettard. In modern versions of the Sinterklaas feast, however, Zwarte Piet no longer carries the roe and children are no longer told that they will be taken back to Spain in Zwarte Piet’s bag if they have been naughty!
Over the years many stories have been added, and Zwarte Piet has developed from a rather unintelligent helper into a valuable assistant to the absent-minded saint. In modern adaptations for television, Sinterklaas has developed a Zwarte Piet for every function, such as a head Piet (Hoofdpiet), a navigation Piet (Wegwijspiet) to navigate the steamboat from Spain to the Netherlands, a gift-wrapping Piet (Pakjespiet) to wrap all the gifts, and an acrobatic Piet to climb roofs and chimneys. Traditionally Zwarte Piet’s face is said to be black because he is a Moor from Spain. Today, some prefer to say that his face is blackened with soot because he has to climb through chimneys to deliver gifts for Sinterklaas!
Sinterklaas is said to come from Spain, possibly because in 1087, half of Saint Nicholas’ relics were transported to the Italian city of Bari, which later formed part of the Spanish Kingdom of Naples. Others suggest that mandarin oranges, traditionally gifts associated with St. Nicholas, led to the misconception that he must have been from Spain. This theory is backed by a Dutch poem documented in 1810 in New York and provided with an English translation
When I lived in Berkeley my favorite café was the Chez Panisse Café where I fell in love with the verbena tea. At first when I randomly popped in that nice place it was cold so I decided to order some herbal tea. The tea arrived in a large, clear, glass teapot, filled with green leaves and hot water. It was lovely – light, lemony, minty. After I finished it, my curiosity got the best of me and I started fishing out the leaves from the pot, wondering what was in this tea anyway? M waitress noticed this odd behavior and quickly came to the table offering to provide us with fresh leaves.
“These leaves here are mint, but what are these long green ones?”- I asked. -“Lemon verbena,”- was the answer and she happily addressed my battery of questions about this herb.
Lemon verbena is a bushy shrub that grows quite well in Northern California but the best one can be found in France. It originally comes from South America, but has been cultivated in Europe since the 1600s. It has a strong lemon scent and it is used to add a lemon flavor to many dishes. Here’s the method for making simple mint tea with lemon verbena:
1/2 cup of fresh mint leaves (not the stems, they’re bitter), rinsed, lightly packed (about 20 leaves)
1/2 cup of fresh lemon verbena leaves, rinsed, lightly packed (about 10-15 leaves)
2 cups of water
Liver and digestive support
The verbena plant is also a potent herbal remedy that is sometimes overlooked. The medicinal uses of this plant date back to ancient Roman times for the treatment of a variety of illnesses, and thousands of years later the herb is still implemented as a natural remedy and detoxifier that is perfect as an addition to certain colonic cleansing techniques. Verbena’s effects range from bodily purification to the treatment of psychological or neurological problems. Generally, the aerial parts of the plant are used to brew a tea, or a tisane. The herb is easily grown in the garden and can be picked to create homemade verbena tea, or it can be purchased as a stand-alone product. Herbal specialists suggest beginning treatment with verbena to promote a healthy liver by drinking large amounts of the tea once per year for a small period of time. It can also stimulate the body to better absorb the nutrients from food. If you experience digestive issues on a regular basis, drinking a cup of this tea every day can help you improve digestion and resolve minor problems such as diarrhea, bloating, nausea, cramps and flatulence. You can also enjoy a cup of this tea with or after a meal in order to encourage better digestion overall.
Other speculated benefits of this tea are yet to be confirmed by research however they include the stimulation of milk production in breastfeeding women and its topical benefits on the skin.
Verbena and Guy de Maupassant
The world famous French writer Guy de Maupassant who was the master of the short story, -depicted human lives and destinies and social forces in disillusioned and often pessimistic terms – among of his brilliant short novels my favorite is the Window, in which the verbena has a key (sexual) role but not in the form of beverage rather a parfume.
Return to the verbena tea it can be a great drink to enjoy any time or whenever desired. If you have found an interest in giving verbena tea a try, you may be able to find this brew for sale in the tea section of a local health food store (bio shop). When it comes to organic herbal teas, the best one the Buddha Teas as one of the highest quality merchants as far as I ‘ve known.
To prepare verbena tea, simply take one verbena tea bag and place it in a cup of boiled water. Allow the tea to steep covered for a period of 3 to 5 minutes. Afterwards, sugar, honey, or lemon can be added for flavor if desired!
Ingredients: 1/2 cup lemon verbena leaf, tightly packed, 1 strip lemon zest, about 5 inches long, 4 cups vodka, 2 cups sugar or maple syrup. Lightly bruise the lemon verbena leaves.
1. Place the lightly bruised lemon verbena leaves, lemon zest and the alcohol in a large jar with a tight fitting lid.
2. Leave for at least 2 weeks in a cool, dark place before straining out the solids.
Other recipe or tip: Verbena-camomile cream brulée
Though the Germans aren’t known for their Halloween celebrations (there are more European traditions like Reformationstag and Martin’s day), they are very into pumpkins. Generally referred to as “Kürbis” which means “squash”, this is a fall staple that must be consumed in mass quantities like Spargel in spring and summer.
So what better place than Germany for the largest pumpkin festival in the world? Taking place on the grounds of a spectacular palace, Schloss Ludwigsburg, over 450,000 pumpkins are on display during Ludwigsburg Kürbis ausstellung (Pumpkin exhibition).
There are 800 different kinds of pumpkins on display from edible to decorative, bumpy to smooth, mammoth to skinny and curvy. With themes like “Pumpkins in Flight” or “The Pumpkin Circus is Coming to Town!” “Rome”(this year) pumpkins are transformed into elaborate action scenes and art pieces acrobatics, clowns, knife throwers and more.
Hundreds of thousands of festive pumpkins are on display every day, but there are several can’t miss events during the festival. It runs from 1st of September until 5th of November! Here is the event calendar:
Pumpkin festival Grounds
The largest pumpkins of the festival are on display again, this time being cut into by famed pumpkin artists. Watch as they cut into orangey flesh to create giant, organic masterpieces. Watch for famed US Pumpkin carver Ray Villafane and his team from 15th to 18th of September. The audience will judge which giant pumpkin is best transformed.
Pumpkin regatta Sunday, September 18 at 12:30 South Garden, Blühendes Barock
It is surprising what will float…like a pumpkin. The annual pumpkin boat race is a highlight of the Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival. Daring canoeists try to steer hollowed-out giant pumpkins across the lake as fast as they can
German Pumpkin Championship on Sunday Oct 2 at 13:30 in the South Garden Blühendes Baroque
The heaviest pumpkins from Germany step up to the scales. So far the German record was 812,5 kg (1,791 lbs).
European Pumpkin Championship on Sunday October 9 at 13:30
Following the German Championship heavy weights from around Europe will compare their girth for this competition. In 2013 the world heaviest pumpkin was 1,053 kg (2,322 pounds) making first in history to surpass the 1,000 kg mark.
Giant Pumpkin Carving on Sunday October 16 at 10:00
Halloween pumpkin Carving Sunday October 22 and 29 at 10:00 Carving tents by the pumpkin sales stand if you are missing seeing jack’o lanterns on every corner, watch the experts carve Halloween pumpkins into sinister smiles and try your skills at an artistic design. There is even the chance to win great prizes!
Smashing pumpkins Sunday November 6 at 12:00
Pumpkin Festival grounds to celebrate the end of the season, the winning pumpkins are honored with horrific pummeling. The winners of the Weigh Off are smashed to bits and visitors can take home some of the giants’ seeds. And besides there are plenty interesting programs such as:
Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival for the Kids
The grounds are a fall wonderland for kids and adults alike, but kids can really run free at the Märchengarten -Fairy Tale Garden. Not quite medieval, this kids’ area was built in 1958 and includes interactive sites like a Rapunzel tower, miniature train and boat ride. Children can also observe dioramas of classic German fairytales, some recognizable…some not so much.
All things Pumpkin are on the Menu
What fun is looking at all of these delicious pumpkins if you can’t eat any of them? Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival is happy to oblige with tons of pumpkin-inspired foods and drinks.
Find pumpkin on Flammkuchen (like pizza), in sausage and in Maultaschen. Try Kürbis spaghetti with pumpkin seed pesto or pumpkin burgers and pumpkin fries, find pumpkin in strudel, and in Sekt (champagne) and pumpkin schorle-a non alcoholic beverage with bubbles.
And don’t miss Germany’s biggest bowl of pumpkin soup! Served daily from 11:00 until 17:00 on the weekend of September 24th and 25th. Visitors can enjoy a delicious dish of the record-breaking soup and contribute to charity as 1 euro of each bowl sold is donated to charity.
And if you want to bring a little pumpkin home, there are plenty of delicious pumpkin products. Stands offer everything from pumpkin chutney to pumpkin ketchup to cinnamon-sugar coated pumpkin seeds. Bring your own jug to fill with fresh-pressed apple cider. Take the opportunity to sample everything.
September is a great month for avid collectors, avid eaters and avid chefs because this is when wild mushrooms are seriously hitting the scene. It is on the continent that the enthusiasm for the fungal wonders of nature is most apparent, while in Belgium and Germany we seem always to have been afraid of picking and collecting (maybe is a toadstool?). The cep is the prime wild mushroom-cépe to the French and porcino (little pig) to the Italians. Its round shiny cap looks like the Victorian penny bun, but it will now cost rather more than that. They form trees, in clearings in the woods, and around the edges of woods.
Available too the chanterelle, which is also known as girolle. They are quite often thought to be exactly the same, but are actually different strains of the same species. The girolle is found between months of May and July but it is available between midsummer and autumn as well. And of course in the autumn you also find the black Périgord and the white Alba truffle. They are very precious to the French and the Italians, and how special I have just learned in France, in the home of the truffles.
The black diamond market
On the first Tuesday of August, the main street of an otherwise undistinguished town in south west France was magically transformed by one of the most exciting, adrenaline-pumping and important events in the entire French culinary universe-the opening day of the truffle market in Lalbenque-.Truffle brokers and special restaurant supply buyers from all over France, the UK and beyond would flock to Lalbenque on the Tuesday market day, momentarily swelling this small town’s population by up to a thousand. They were all there for only one purpose, attempting to acquire specimens of perhaps the world’s pre-eminent culinary delicacy.
(Lalbenque is 25 kilometers south of Cahors, and it is the largest truffle market in south western France, and from early December until early March, hundreds of kilos of France’s ‘black diamond’, (Tuber Melanosporum), will be sold in Lalbenque’s weekly truffle market (another truffle market is held at Richerenches in the Vaucluse)
The major of Lalbenque told me that all the fuss about the truffle began in the 18th century, when the French gastronome and author Brillat-Savarin described these truffles as “the diamond of the kitchen”. It resulted that by 1900, France produced 1,000 metric tons of Tuber Melanosporum a year, but incessant demand and the resulting over-harvesting has reduced today’s annual harvest to a mere 20 to 40 metric tons.
Exactly how Lalbenque and Quercy (the capital of the territory) assumed such an important culinary role is not clear-says the mere-but the scrubby calcareous soil of the surrounding area abounds with the twisted small oak trees whose roots have a symbiotic relationship with and host the growth of truffles.
Meanwhile he tries to reveal the secret of the truffle we walk to the market. I can tell you that already itself is simultaneously picturesque and unusual. Specially on market Tuesday, beginning around 2pm, when sellers stand shoulder to shoulder behind benches running in a long line along the main street, displaying the truffles they are offering that day in a basket set on the bench in front of them. Some sellers have but a few truffles, while others have a bounty exceeding several kilos. About a meter in front of the benches is a strategically positioned rope that prospective buyers dare not cross.
The buyers, usually numbering in the several hundreds, stand in front of the rope and engage in discreet conversations with the sellers. Most conversations revolve around weight, since sales prices are calculated in grams and kilos, but occasionally a forward buyer even asks to have a basket handed to him across the rope for a brief inspection, requests that are often declined.
Nervous smiles are exchanged on both sides of the rope, because both buyers and sellers know very well what is about to come. -At exactly 2.30 pm, a rapid fire series of events very quickly ensues. Not a moment before or after, a policeman whistle is sounded, the rope drops to the ground, the buyers charge forward, earnest and somewhat frantic negotiations ensue, and five minutes later, the market is over for that week. What is remarkable is that even though all sales have truffle weight, as well of course quality, as key value drivers, you will never see a scale at Lalbenque. Sellers will tell you what their basket weighs when you ask, but verification is considered an insult.
The opening day of the truffle market at Lalbenque is always the first Tuesday of every month. It is of particular interest because the elders of the organization that runs the market, the Syndicat des Trufficulteurs, in December parade through Lalbenque in long, black ceremonial robes and plumed Three Musketeers-type hats, with golden medallions hanging around their necks. With much ceremonial flourish, the Mayor of Lalbenque declares the market to be open.
Prospective sellers at the Lalbenque market are required to arrive early, and are ushered into a back room at the Marie where syndicat experts sniff, poke pinch, examine and otherwise take steps to assure that this particular batch of truffles are genuine Tuber Melanosporum, and not Chinese counterfeits. The Chinese truffle, Tuber Sinensis, is a decidedly inferior culinary product that is often passed off as a Perigordian black truffle. It is frequently joked in culinary circles that half of the Perigordian truffles sold in London, Tokyo and New York are Chinese. But not at all in Lalbenque. The syndicat verifies Tuber Melanosporum botanical correctness, which gives comfort to buyers and presumably emboldens bidding.
The laws of supply and demand have driven the price of Perigordian black truffles to stratospheric heights. You can expect to pay upwards of €500 a kilo for good quality truffles at Lalbenque (€900 in Paris), and considerably more if summer weather has not been conducive to truffle growth.
Cooking with truffles
Myriad culinary applications of truffles exist (I even saw a recipe for truffle ice cream!), the local recipe book of Vino Veritas offers a few brief suggestions here in Lalbenque. The biggest mistake a would-be truffle chef can make is muddling the delicate and subtle nuances of truffles with other flavors. The food applications that show off truffles the best, in my opinion (but consider please I’m not an expert), are those made with eggs it was Mussolini the dictator’s favorite, rice or potatoes, and very little else. Very little preparation of the truffles themselves is either necessary or desirable. You want to maximize the surface area of the truffles you are using and then heat them for just a bit to bring out the volatile odor elements. Take a one euro vegetable peeler (the expensive truffle shavers are a rip-off), place shavings of truffles in a small saucepan with butter, heat under very low heat for just a few moments, add the truffles to the balance of your chosen dish, and be prepared for oral ecstasy.
Be aware of the shelf life of fresh truffles is about three weeks and it looses its weight day by day. Store them in a tight-lidded container in the refrigerator submerged in aborio rice, which allows a little air circulation but not too much, and facilitates the most delicious risotto long after the truffles themselves have been consumed!
Stuffed cabbage roulade with chanterelle rice
Bread is one of the oldest prepared foods. Evidence from 30,000 years ago in Europe revealed starch residue on rocks used for pounding plants. It is possible that during this time, starch extract from the roots of plants, such as cattails and ferns, was spread on a flat rock, placed over a fire and cooked into a primitive form of flatbread. Bread has a significance beyond mere nutrition in many cultures because of its history and contemporary importance. Bread is also significant in Christianity as one of the elements (alongside wine) of the Eucharist and in other religions including Paganism.
In many cultures, bread is a metaphor for basic necessities and living conditions in general. For example, a “bread-winner” is a household’s main economic contributor and has little to do with actual bread-provision. This is also seen in the phrase “putting bread on the table“. The Roman poet Juvenal satirized superficial politicians and the public as caring only for “panem et circenses” (bread and circuses). In Russia in 1917, the Bolsheviks promised “peace, land, and bread.” The term “breadbasket” denotes an agriculturally productive region. In Slavic cultures bread and salt is offered as a welcome to guests. In India, life’s basic necessities are often referred to as “roti, kapra aur makan” -bread, cloth, and house.
Words for bread, including “dough” and “bread” itself, are used in English-speaking countries as synonyms for money. A remarkable or revolutionary innovation may be called the best thing since “sliced bread”. The expression “to break bread with someone” means “to share a meal with someone”. The English word “lord” comes from the Anglo-Saxon hlāfweard, meaning “bread keeper”.
In Hungary bread blessing is celebrated on 20 of August every year. That day is also the day of St. Stephen (the name day of their first king). The roots of that harvest holiday date back to the reign of Maria Theresa; the monarch issued an order that we commemorate the state founder king of Hungary Steven on 20 August every year. Visitors from lands afar flocked to attend the St. Stephen day celebrations held on the Buda Castle Hill in order to celebrate the cutting of the new bread amidst splendid harvest festivities. The Hungarians revive these traditions on 20 August every year.
However in Scotland according to an ancient tradition the Bannock bread is celebrated on the first of August. But what is Bannock bread? It is a variety of flat quick bread or any large, round article baked or cooked from grain. When a round bannock is cut into wedges, the wedges are often called scones. However, in Scotland the words bannock and scone are often used interchangeably. The original bannocks were heavy, flat cakes of unleavened barley or oatmeal dough formed into a round or oval shape, then cooked on a griddle. In Scotland, before the 19th century, bannocks were cooked on a bannock stane (Scots for stone), a large, flat, rounded piece of sandstone, placed directly onto a fire, used as a cooking surface. Most modern bannocks are made with baking powder or baking soda as a leavening agent, giving them a light and airy texture. There is a suggestion that bannock cakes played a pivotal role in the deciding of a person for human sacrifice during the late Iron Age in the discovery of Lindow Man.
(The Lindow Man, also known as Pete Marsh, is the preserved bog body of a man discovered in a peat bog at Lindow Moss near Wilmslow in Cheshire, North West England. The human remains were found on 1st of August in 1984 by commercial peat-cutters. At the time of death, Lindow Man was a healthy male in his mid-20s, and he may have been someone of high status, as his body shows little evidence of heavy or rough work. There has been debate over the reason for Lindow Man’s death, for the nature of his demise was violent, perhaps ritualistic; after a last meal of charred bread, Lindow Man was strangled, hit on the head, and his throat cut. Dating the body has proven problematic, but it is thought that Lindow Man was deposited into Lindow Moss, face down, some time between 2 BC and 119 AD, in either the Iron Age or Romano-British period. The body has been preserved by freeze-drying and is on permanent display at the British Museum.)
But to return to the Bannock bread, nowadays there are many Bannock varieties but the most well-known is the Scottish bannock or the Selkirk Bannock, named after the town in the Scottish borders where it is traditionally made. It is a spongy, buttery variety, sometimes compared to a fruitcake, made from wheat flour and containing a very large quantity of raisins. The first known maker of this variety was a baker named Robbie Douglas, who opened his shop in Selkirk in 1859. When Queen Victoria visited Sir Walter Scott’s granddaughter at Abbotsford she is reputed to have taken her tea with a slice of Selkirk Bannock, thus ensuring that its reputation was enshrined forever. Today, Selkirk Bannocks are popular throughout Great Britain, and can be found at most large supermarkets.
The ingredients of the easiest bannock is the next: flour, salt, butter, water and baking powder (further infos about it see on the internet).
The medlar or common medlar is one of the goofiest fruit in the world. It can be a large shrub or small decorative tree, and the name of the fruit of this tree. It belongs to the rose family and a host of small golden fruits in the autumn. They’re prepared similar to rose hips or backside-scratchers. The fruit has been cultivated since Roman times, and is unusual in being available in winter, and in being eaten when bletted.
It’s latin name is Mespilus germanica which is not logical since it is not ingenuous in Germany rather in Bulgaria, in Turkey and in Hungary. The fruits are hard and acidic, but become edible after being softened, ‘bletted’, by frost, or naturally in storage given sufficient time. Once softening begins, the skin rapidly takes on a wrinkled texture and turns dark brown, and the inside reduces to the consistency and flavor reminiscent of apple sauce. This process can confuse those new to medlars, as a softened fruit looks as if it has spoiled. Once bletted, the fruit can be eaten raw and is often eaten as a dessert, or used to make medlar jam or jelly. They are used in “Medlar cheese”, which is similar to lemon curd, being made with the fruit pulp, eggs, and butter. So-called medlar tea is usually not made from M. germanica but from wolfberry or goji, which is sometimes called “red medlar”.
Cultivars of Mespilus germanica that are grown for their fruit include ‘Hollandia’, ‘Nottingham’, and ‘Russian’, the large-fruited variety ‘Dutch’ (also known as ‘Giant’ or ‘Monstrous’), ‘Royal’, ‘Breda giant’, and ‘Large Russian’.
Medlar in literature
A fruit which is rotten before it is ripe, is used figuratively in literature as a symbol of prostitution or premature destitution. The fruit gets a lot of derision because I’ve been told that in England, they’re referred to as dog’s backsides (arse)…although I did read that the French call it cul de chien.
In literature it is mentioned for example in the Prologue to The Reeve’s Tale, Geoffrey Chaucer’s character laments his old age, comparing himself to the medlar, which he names using the slang term “open-arse”.
In William Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens, Apemantus forces an apple upon Timon: There’s a medlar for thee; eat it”, perhaps including a pun on “meddler”, one who meddles in affairs, as well as on rottenness
In Measure for Measure, Lucio excuses his denial of past fornication because “they would else have married me to the rotten medlar.
In As You Like It, Rosalind makes a complicated pun involving grafting her inter locuter with the trees around her which bear love letters and with a medlar “I’ll graff it with you, and then I shall graff it with a medlar. Then it will be the earliest fruit i’ th’ country; for you’ll be rotten ere you be half ripe, and that’s the right virtue of the medlar. The most famous reference to medlars, often bowdlerized until modern editions accepted it, appears in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, when Mercutio laughs at Romeo’s unrequited love for his mistress Rosaline.
Medlar jam and cake
To return to the present time I don’t think medlars aren’t really popular or even known. For one thing, they share the same name as loquats –nèfles. And, frankly, I don’t know too many people, except my grandma who make their own jam from it. Which works out great for me because I give out homemade jam for gifts.
Before I forgot, my grandma told me once that in Hungary people pick medlars after the frost, which breaks the flesh down as well. SoI plucked a few kilos from the tree of my friend’s and brought them home in order to make medlar jam. I used my grandma’s recipe’s, and as well British cooks’s, (such as Jamie Oliver and Nigel Slater) for guidance because I didn’t know much about how to deal with medlars. Mine took a bit of coaxing to be bletted. I did a little searching around for advice and most advise putting them in a cold place, in a single layer. A few experienced cooks suggested the refrigerator as the place to do it, and I did not realize when I bought it, but was surprised that my refrigerator did indeed have a “bletting chamber.” The first thing you need to know is that medlars need to be bletted, or left to soften and “rot” to a rusty-brown color!
Yet almost a month passed and my medlars were as good as new. As in, they were still rock-hard. So I took them out and put them near a chilly window. And let it behold, those little “arses” softened right up. (Although I think I picked mine a little less-ripe than they should have been.) Next up was cooking them then letting them strain overnight, similar to making apple jelly. Once the liquid is left to strain overnight, you might take a look at the brownish liquid and think that you’ll made a mistake by listening to me. Even I thought there was something wrong. But as I cooked the vicious, murky liquid with some sugar, the final result was a few jars of quivering, shimmering, rosy-red beautiful jelly. I only got two-and-a-half jars from three pounds of fruit, though, so I doubt I’ll be giving these precious jars away. In which case, I’d better get my own “derrière” in gear and find more free fruit, and make more jelly.
Medlar, bananas cake
Ingredients: 6 eggs, ¾ cup heavy cream, ¾ cup vegetable oil, 2½ cups all purpose flour, 3 tbsp baking powder, ½ cup hazelnut flour, 16 ripe Bermuda bananas or 10 regular bananas, 1 cup of medlar purée, 4 cups sugar, a pinch of salt, dashes of vanilla and lemon juice
Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter three one-quart kugelforms and dust with flour. Add sugar to eggs, beat until stiff then set aside. Purée bananas, then add vanilla and lemon juice, medlar or loquat purée, heavy cream and vegetable oil. Combine egg mixture with banana mixture.
Mix flour, hazelnut flour, salt and baking powder together. Fold well into banana batter. Fill forms three-quarters full, place on baking tray to ensure browning, and bake for 45 minutes.
Unmould as soon as possible after baking to avoid sogginess and let cool on rack. Bread freezes well if wrapped tightly and frozen same day.