What the hell is a medlar? And why is it worth driving to Sierra Madre to find out? After getting her hands on a basket of the ancient, almost unknown and rarely commercially grown fruit, master food preserver and Mother Moo Creamery owner Karen Klemens turned it into a batch of über-rare medlar ice cream. If you want a taste, go now. Klemens made only one gallon, which she expects won't last more than a week.
“People are intrigued to come in and taste it,” Klemens says, “but so far, only the true foodies have come in and asked for a scoop.”
The medlar may be the antithesis of fast food. The ancient fruit, native to northern Iran, Asia Minor and the Caucases, is inedible until it undergoes bletting, a long and strange ripening process that's akin to rotting. In its unripened state, the small, brown fruit, which is about the size of a doughnut hole, “resembles a russeted crabapple with an open blossom end,” according to David Karp, who wrote a terrific piece about the long, strange, romanticized history of the medlar (complete with D. H. Lawrence references) in the Los Angeles Times last year.
That was around the time (thanks to Craig Ruggless of Winnetka Farms) that Klemens got her hands on some medlars and made her first batch of jelly with the stuff. This year, Klemens and a small group from the Master Food Preserver program made medlar ice cream.
It wasn't an easy process. Klemens simmered the medlar to a soft pulp, milled it through a chinois and reduced to eliminate as much liquid as possible before adding it to the ice cream base. It took 10 pounds of fruit to make a single gallon of ice cream. The result is a dense, light brown ice cream with very little air that sells for $4/scoop. (Most ice cream at Mother Moo sells for $3.50/scoop.)
How does it taste? “Like nothing I've ever had before,” Klemens says.
At the shop, she also offers samples of her medlar jelly, which has a slightly different flavor profile than the ice cream. “It's a little clovey, cinnamony and nutmegy. It's sweet but not too sweet at all. It tastes like autumn leaves.”
Elina Shatkin is a staff writer at LA Weekly. Follow her at @elinashatkin or contact her at email@example.com.