By Cheri Sims
While researching recipes for Christmas I made a delightful discovery on YouTube. The video opened about halfway through so I did not know who or what I was watching but the pretty lady was talking about British recipes. I knew she was not one of the British bakers I usually watch and her American accent confused me; she sounded like me with a pretty distinct Midwest twang to her voice. After the video was finished I went back to the beginning and discovered her name is Julie Montagu and she called herself an American Viscountess. Her American accent and title did not gel in my mind which called for further investigation.
I looked her up on Wikipedia and discovered that she is an American, born Julie Fisher in Sugar Grove, Illinois (just outside Chicago) and married Luke Montagu, Viscount Hinchingbrook in 2004 and they live at Mapperton Manor in Dorset, England. If all this sounds strange you might recall learning about the “Earl of Sandwich’’ in school. Mapperton House is the home of the Earl and Countess of Sandwich. “The family moved here from Hinchingbrooke House, near Huntingdon, in the 1950s, bringing with it the family collection. Mapperton was voted ‘The Nation’s Finest Manor House’ by Country Life and was principal location of 2015 film ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’. It is a glorious Jacobean manor overlooking a 15 acre Italianate garden, with orangery, topiary and borders, descending ponds and arboretum. The house has outstanding views of Dorset hills and woodlands’’. (https://www.historichouses.org/house/mapperton-house/)
After marrying into the Montagu family Julie became interested in historic houses and castles of England and subsequently was hired by the Smithsonian Institute to produce a series on the above mentioned; which became quite successful and will soon have a second season. During this time she and her husband also took over the running of Mapperton from his parents and also began to enter the social media world with a Mapperton Manor website (https://mapperton.com/) and eventually her YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/c/AmericanViscountess)as, As of this writing she has 98K subscribers and hours and hours of video to watch. Recently her husband, Luke, the Viscount, has joined her in front of the camera and I found it quite enjoyable watching the combination of American exuberance and British reserve play out on the video. One of the last videos I watched was a tour of the manor bathrooms, or as the British call them “the Loo ‘’ or the “Water Closet”. I was surprised at the amount of historic bathrooms the Manor house has, ten old toilets as Hubby would say! All of their endeavors are geared to the preservation of the Manor and estate; I commend them and urge you to indulge yourself in a historic tour of the British lifestyle past and present. If you get really excited about Mapperton one can stay in their five star “garden Cottage” which is a beautifully restored cottage on the grounds and where Julie and Luke and their four children lived before moving into the manor house.
I am trying to find interesting things to watch now that Christmas is over and via the Viscountesses web site I found another, British highly recommended, British couple’s You Tube and they are so cute and funny. Their names are Kirsten and Joerg and, at first, I thought I was watching Saturday Night Live but they are just a fun couple and I think you might like to watch some of their videos of British life. (https://www.youtube.com/c/KirstenJoerg)
Back on this side of the great pond: I learned about an unusual fruit watching the American Viscountess. It is the “Medlar” fruit and it is considered a Medieval fruit which is mainly grown in Europe, often called the fruit tree of antiquity. The Garden Happy website (https://gardenandhappy.com/medlar/) states :”the medlar (Mespilus germanica) is a large shrub or tree that produces fruits in the late fall and early winter. It’s a member of the rose family, which makes sense because the fruits are reminiscent of large rose hips. The fruit is said to taste like apple butter, with hints of cinnamon, and vanilla. This much-maligned fruit seems kind of romantic to me, despite what has been said about it. It’s an ancient fruit and requires care for its full potential to be known. To me, it feels like an important lesson in this age of industrial food where you can enjoy any fruit you like by going to the supermarket. With a medlar, you have to be patient and care for the fruit before you can enjoy it”.
I wondered if this fruit grows in the USA and I found “Cricket Hill Nursery’’ in Connecticut where the trees can be purchased. (https://www.treepeony.com/). Their website states ”The fruit should be picked after a few frosts, when the leaves of the tree have fallen. At this point the fruit will still be hard and inedible. In order to ripen or “blett” the fruit, it should be stored in a cool, dry place until the pulp softens and turns a light brown. Ripe medlars are quite delicious, with a flavor similar to spiced apple sauce. The early 20th century English scholar and wine connoisseur George Saintsbury wrote in his classic Notes on a Cellar that “the one fruit which seems to me to go best with all wine, from hock to sherry and from claret to port, is the Medlar – an admirable and distinguished thing in itself, and a worthy mate for the best of liquors.”
Believe it or not I found Medlar recipes on the “Sweetaire Farm’’ website (https://www.sweetairefarm.com/recipes/medlar-recipes/) and they sound quite intriguing. They state that Medlar fruit jelly is delicious and also have a recipe for a Medlar tart. Since there are no sources for Medlar in our area, that I know of yet; I decided to research a substitute fruit and “The Spruce Eats’’ site which I frequent regularly states “one stone fruit can be substituted for another” so I looked up stone fruit and that would be peaches, apricots or plums. As I read the Bakewell tart recipe I thought it would be delicious with plums which sounds new and exciting to begin the New Year. I hope you enjoyed this little virtual trip to England. Between 100 or so videos of the aforementioned websites I am sure we can spend January learning many things we did not know.
Walnut Bakewell Tart with Roasted Medlar
For the walnut Bakewell tart:
* 1 packet ready-made
sweet shortcrust pastry,
rolled out to 1/4 in thick
* 6 oz butter
* 6 oz caster sugar
* 4 free-range eggs
* 6 oz ground walnuts
* 4 oz bread crumbs
* 11 oz damson jam
* 12 walnut halves
* 9 fl oz double cream
For the roasted medlars:
* 2 oz butter
* 14 oz medlars or
olive, coconut, dates)
* 3 oz caster sugar
* 1 cinnamon stick
Preheat the oven to 375°F. For the tart, line a deep 9 in tart tin with the sweet shortcrust pastry. Place a sheet of baking paper or foil over the pastry and weigh down with baking beans or rice. Place the tart tin onto a baking sheet, transfer to the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the paper or foil and baking beans from the tart tin, then return to the oven for a further ten minutes until the pastry is lightly golden-brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Place the butter and sugar into a bowl and beat together until light and fluffy. Crack in the eggs, one at a time, mixing well between each addition. Add the ground walnuts and breadcrumbs and fold together until well combined. Spread two thirds of the damson jam over the base of the pastry case. Cover with the walnut filling mixture and smooth the top using a wet palette knife. Place the walnut halves around the edge of the filling. Transfer to the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until risen and golden-brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Meanwhile, in a bowl, whip the cream until soft peaks form when the whisk is removed. Fold in the remaining damson jam. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
For the roasted medlars, heat the butter in an ovenproof frying pan and fry the medlars for 1-2 minutes. Add the sugar and cinnamon stick, then transfer the pan to the oven and roast for 10-15 minutes, or until the medlars are soft and the skins have split. To serve, cut the tart into slices and place onto serving plates with a spoonful of damson cream and some roasted medlars.