What are my special features?
The medlar (Mespilus germanica) is a small fruit with a diameter of up to 5cm and a weight of about 15g. The fruit resembles brown-skinned apples and has a cup-shaped depression between the calyx lobes, which is sometimes called the ‘eye’. Medlar trees are small to medium in size, they leaf up early, have attractive white flowers and gnarled, brittle branches. Unlike cultivated varieties, the wild medlar tree has thorns.
The fruits are left on the trees until late autumn/winter onset (late October, early November) and may be quite hard in texture when hand-picked. At this stage they are ‘fresh’, green-purple in colour and considered astringent and inedible, despite some favouring this tart tasting quality. The fruit then needs to be bletted, which is effectively a controlled rotting/maturing of the fruit. This process should take around two or three weeks and at this stage the fruit is soft and a dull purple-brown colour. The flavour can be described as sweet-acidic, like little toffee apples and has a slightly grainy texture.
Medlar fruits are often used to make various preserves such as medlar jelly which pairs well with cold or warm meats. Recipes for Medlar jelly include ingredients such as lemon juice and sugar.
What is my history?
The Medlar may have been brought to Britain by the Romans. A single seed has been excavated at Silchester and was cultivated in the area during the Middle Ages. The ‘Dutch’ and ‘Neapolitan’ English garden Medlar varieties were the most celebrated until the end of the 18th Century when the new variety of ‘Nottingham’ was named. What perhaps makes the Medlar quintessentially British was the enjoyment of the bletted fruit by drinkers of port at the end of a meal.
The Medlar tree is now largely ornamental and more popular in England than in the rest of Europe. Medlar trees can be found in plant nurseries and the fruits found in farm shops, farmer markets and specialist food shops. These locations often sell Medlar jelly or jam, products that have helped the survival of the Medlar.
Why am I forgotten?
The Medlar is threatened due to localised production and producers operating on a small scale.
Don’t lose me… cook me!