Our Medlar trees are Royalty and Royal Beauty. The fruit of the Medlar Tree was prized in kitchens right up until the twentieth century. The tree is related to the rose and the hawthorn, and in ancient times the wood was used to make spear points. But very often the medlar was grown for its beautiful flowers. Like many of our fruit trees, it was probably brought to Britain by the Romans who enjoyed the fruit and dedicated the tree to Saturn.
Medlars are eaten when they appear rotten, bletted is the word used for ripe medlars. When they first appear on the tree they are about the size of a large walnut and hard and inedible. If you cut one the flesh will be white like a very hard apple, and bitter.
As they age the flesh softens, browns and becomes juicy. If you squeeze a bletted medlar the juice will ooze from the paper-thin skin. The best way to eat a bletted medlar is to break the skin and suck out the flesh, it tastes somewhere between a date and apple sauce with cinnamon. The taste is totally unique and delicious.
But, although its flowers are lovely, people have always made jokes about its fruit. Since medieval times, it has been known as ‘granny’s bum,’ ‘dog’s bottom’.
An 18th Century essay described the medlar like this: “A fruit, vulgarly called an open arse; of which it is more truly than delicately said, that it is never ripe till it is as rotten as a turd, and then it is not worth a fart.”
Shakespeare made dirty jokes about medlars for smutty laughs in his plays. In Romeo and Juliet he has Mercutio nudge and leer to Romeo “Now will he sit under a medlar tree, and wish his mistress were that kind of fruit as maids call medlars when they laugh alone. An open-arse and thou a poper’in pear!“
People talk of rotten ripeness of the medlar as the poet DH Lawrence did:
I love you, rotten, delicious rottenness.
I love to suck you out from your skins
So brown and soft and coming suave,
Morbid, as the Italians say.
What a rare, powerful, reminiscent flavour
Comes out of your falling through the stages of decay:
Stream within stream…
What is it?
What is it, in the grape turning raisin,
In the medlar, in the sorb-apple.
Wineskins of brown morbidity,
Latin name: Mespilus germanica
Uses: eating raw/ making jelly
Flavour: spicy cross between date and apple
Fruit colour: brown
Flowering time: Late May
Picking time: After the first frost in November
Eating/storing time: a few weeks
Tree vigour: 8 metres
Year planted: 2011