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The Medlar tree is actually a large deciduous shrub that has a habit of spreading and requires some regular pruning to heights of approximately 3 meters. The white blossoms that develop in the spring resembling those of its pear cousin, later mature into small round fruits. In the fall the Medlar fruits ripen from a yellow to rusty brown and average 3 to 5 centimeters in diameter upon harvest. They are spherical with far-spreading sepals on the calyx giving the fruits a hollow look opposite their stem end. The inner flesh is the consistency and flavor of a tangy applesauce dotted with several hard seeds.
Medlar fruit is available in the fall and winter.
Medlar is botanically classified as Mespilus germanica and a close relative of the loquat, both members of the Rosaceae family. Considered a pome fruit along with apples, pears and quince, the Medlar resembles a large brown rosehip and should only be eaten when fully ripe. Through a process called bletting, the fruits are stored after harvest and held until they achieve a very soft texture and brown interior. This develops all of the fruit’s natural sugars and allows any unpleasant astringent tannins to dissipate. Though difficult to find in modern day cookery, the Medlar has a rich history in both Renaissance era recipes as well as in literary references, including Cervantes, Shakespeare, Nabakov and D.H. Lawrence.
Once bletted, the fully softened Medlar fruits can be eaten raw on their own, but are most often prepared in sweet applications such as tarts, pies and cakes. They make a rich fruit jelly excellent for pairing with blue or hard salty cheeses. The pulp is traditionally mixed with sugar and cream and eaten as an accompaniment to port following dinner. A Victorian-era preparation of the Medlar, known as Medlar Cheese, is a curd style fruit cheese which is traditionally spiced with allspice and sugar and then pressed into small ornate molds.
Medlar fruits have an interesting literary reference in Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" when Mercutio says, “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.” In this passage Mercutio is referring to Romeo’s mistress by alluding to the fruit’s resemblance to a certain part of the female anatomy. In fact, Medlars were even called "open arses" in early Elizabethan plays, and in France they are called cul de chien or dog’s ass.
Medlar trees are native to present day Turkey and other regions east of the Mediterranean. They exist in both the wild and in cultivated orchards where they are generally grafted rather than grown from seed in order to maintain consistent fruit type. The trees tolerate most soil types with adequate drainage and thrive in warm sheltered locations as their leaves are easily damaged by strong winds. In Theodore Garrett’s 19th century, The Encyclopaedia of Practical Cookery, he wrote of a recipe that dates back to the medieval period in which the boiled Medlar is combined with sugar and allspice then chilled in molds. The spiced fruit paste was known as chardequince or Medlar cheese.
Recipes that include Medlar. One is easiest, three is harder.
|Slow Food in the UK||Mutton with Medlar and Pine Ash|
|David Lebovitz||Medlar Jelly|
|Doves Farm||Medlar Tart|
|Fratelli ai Fornelli||Medlar Cheese|
People have spotted Medlar using the Specialty Produce app for iPhone and Android.
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