Food, mothers and kindness bring people together – even during a pandemic.
Tonight I felt nurtured by my mother’s dearest friend in Blackheath, who sent me home with a brown paper bag filled with small jars of medlar and quince jellies to taste test. She was eager for me to compare the two.
My mother used to collect my medlars because she knew Carole loved them, and I was too busy to process them.
Freshly harvested medlars
As my medlars began to fall this year, I remembered and rang Carole.
Picking up the medlars to be taken home and ‘bletted’ before being processed
A week ago she picked them up and left me homemade French lunettes in return. What a trade!
She dropped the container back with a jar of sweet green tomato relish and a jar of ‘kasundi’ or Indian tomato relish. This wasn’t just any kasundi – it was a CWA prizewinning kasundi, selected by judge Mary Moody (check out the recipe below).
Sweet Green Tomato Relish and ‘Kasundi’ Indian Tomato Relish
Tonight I’ve compared her medlar and quince jellies. It’s hard to exaggerate how absolutely delicious, and exquisitely beautiful, they both were, but the fragrant delicacy of the medlar jelly most definitely got our thumbs up. What a treat (recipe below too).
Medlar and Quince Jellies
Medlar jelly on the left and quince on the right
Carole originally fell in love with medlars when she saw a tree in a friend’s yard. We both agree they’d have to be one of the most stunning autumn trees in Blackheath.
Medlar trees in Autumn
They’re also one of the few fruits you can still harvest in late autumn/early winter in the village. They taste like stewed apples with cinnamon, eaten raw after they’ve ‘bletted’ (become over-ripe), and they can be transformed into sweet clear jelly or medlar butter. They were particularly popular in Roman and Medieval times and were frequently referred to in literature, in rather raunchy ways, by both Chaucer and Shakespeare.
Medlars ‘bletting’ – they need to become very soft and squishy before they’re ready to eat
I’ve fallen in love with them again because they’ve been the motivation for a continued connection with Carole, and led to a great evening of tea and conversation.
During this period of Coronavirus lockdown, lots of people have been digging out photos of when they were younger and posting them on social media. Carole isn’t on social media but she did have this photo on her wall:
Carole and Doug Lee
It’s of her and her husband Doug who she met when she was 14 – after she stole his horse! It was in a paddock alone near her house so she took it home and put it in her garage. Despite, or because of this, they married when she was 18 and then had three children in quick succession: Mark, Anna and David.
Doug and Carole rode motorbikes together their entire married life, right until two years before Doug’s death at 72.
When Doug’s career as a fireman and Carole’s career as a social worker ended, they moved from Sydney to a 27-acre farm in Krambach, southwest of Taree. They spent very happy years in the community there until Doug was diagnosed with asbestosis and they moved to Blackheath to be closer to the children before Doug died, 9 months later.
There is a beautiful, heavily scented, deep red Firefighter rose planted in the backyard for Doug. The rose was named to honour the Firefighters who lost their lives on September 11, 2001. It has strong tall stems and an old rose fragrance.
I asked Carole how she copes … with grief, trauma, loss, loneliness … with living in lockdown.
The answer was simple. She loves people and enjoys doing little things for others … like baking cakes and leaving meaningful little gifts on their doorstep. She sees cooking as her artform and loves to see people eat; but also loves music, theatre, films and reading – as do her three children who are all musical and creative. They come up often to eat, watch movies and help in the garden.
The new vegetable garden enclosure recently built by Carole’s son
For her birthday they gave her the 6 volumes of Proust’s ‘In Search of Lost Time’ and she’s determined to get through them all!
“Proust was also living in isolation. His reminiscences are about voluntary and involuntary memory and he has the most lovely descriptions of characters,” Carole says, laughing at the same time: “he’s definitely much easier than James Joyce!”
On moving to Blackheath she also joined the Blackheath & District Horticultural Society and the CWA, and volunteered providing Social Support through Blue Mountains Food Services.
“I’ll be 82 in January,” she said, “but I still love talking to people everywhere I go. I spoke to this young man on the train. He was wearing steampunk gear and it turned out he was a compere for Wrestling Go. We’ve been to the Wrestling a few times now.”
I also have a penfriend in England who I’ve been corresponding with since I was 13 and my best friend at school was a Danish immigrant after the war. She introduced me to different food and to coffee! We’re still great friends and she works at Jesse St, the National Women’s Library.
Carole’s love for others is infectious. It wasn’t hard to see why my mother loved her so much.
60ml sunflower oil
1 tablespoon black mustard seed
1 tablespoon turmeric
2 tablespoons cumin
2 teaspoons chilli powder (or to taste)
2 green chillies
¼ cup grated fresh ginger
4 crushed cloves garlic
130ml malt vinegar
2 x 400g cans tomatoes (or fresh and very ripe)*
⅓ cup brown sugar (I used jaggery)
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
½ teaspoon allspice
I also add these which are optional:
Place ginger, chillies, 2 garlic and 50ml vinegar in a food processor and pulse to a smooth paste.
Heat oil, add dry spices and cook 5 minutes.
Add ginger and garlic paste and cook a further 5 minutes.
Add tomatoes, sugar, salt and remaining vinegar and simmer 1 hour.
Relish is ready when oil comes to the top of the pot.
Bottle in sterile jars and ‘water bath’ for 10 minutes.
* If you’re using fresh tomatoes, remove skins and chop. Ripe to over-ripe tomatoes are the best.
1 ½ kg ‘bletted’ medlars
1 green apple roughly chopped
3 cups crystal sugar
Rinse and squash medlars. Chop apple and lemon, and place all in a saucepan with enough water to float fruit.
Bring to the boil and simmer for an hour.
Strain the fruit overnight through muslin. NB. Don’t push the fruit through the muslin, let it drip naturally or the jelly will cloud.
Next day return the liquid to the pan, add sugar and cook until 104C, or until mixture jells on a cold saucer.
A little lemon juice may be added if the jelly is too sweet.
Bottle in sterilised jars and ‘water bath’ for 10 minutes.
Chutney can be made from the ‘left over’ pulp, but the effort used to extract the seeds and other ‘bits’ is not worth the while.
NB. To demonstrate how to eat medlars raw, Blackheath Community Farm has made a video here