The medlar or common medlar is one of the goofiest fruit in the world. It can be a large shrub or small decorative tree, and the name of the fruit of this tree. It belongs to the rose family and a host of small golden fruits in the autumn. They’re prepared similar to rose hips or backside-scratchers. The fruit has been cultivated since Roman times, and is unusual in being available in winter, and in being eaten when bletted.
It’s latin name is Mespilus germanica which is not logical since it is not ingenuous in Germany rather in Bulgaria, in Turkey and in Hungary. The fruits are hard and acidic, but become edible after being softened, ‘bletted’, by frost, or naturally in storage given sufficient time. Once softening begins, the skin rapidly takes on a wrinkled texture and turns dark brown, and the inside reduces to the consistency and flavor reminiscent of apple sauce. This process can confuse those new to medlars, as a softened fruit looks as if it has spoiled. Once bletted, the fruit can be eaten raw and is often eaten as a dessert, or used to make medlar jam or jelly. They are used in “Medlar cheese”, which is similar to lemon curd, being made with the fruit pulp, eggs, and butter. So-called medlar tea is usually not made from M. germanica but from wolfberry or goji, which is sometimes called “red medlar”.
Cultivars of Mespilus germanica that are grown for their fruit include ‘Hollandia’, ‘Nottingham’, and ‘Russian’, the large-fruited variety ‘Dutch’ (also known as ‘Giant’ or ‘Monstrous’), ‘Royal’, ‘Breda giant’, and ‘Large Russian’.
Medlar in literature
A fruit which is rotten before it is ripe, is used figuratively in literature as a symbol of prostitution or premature destitution. The fruit gets a lot of derision because I’ve been told that in England, they’re referred to as dog’s backsides (arse)…although I did read that the French call it cul de chien.
In literature it is mentioned for example in the Prologue to The Reeve’s Tale, Geoffrey Chaucer’s character laments his old age, comparing himself to the medlar, which he names using the slang term “open-arse”.
In William Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens, Apemantus forces an apple upon Timon: There’s a medlar for thee; eat it”, perhaps including a pun on “meddler”, one who meddles in affairs, as well as on rottenness
In Measure for Measure, Lucio excuses his denial of past fornication because “they would else have married me to the rotten medlar.
In As You Like It, Rosalind makes a complicated pun involving grafting her inter locuter with the trees around her which bear love letters and with a medlar “I’ll graff it with you, and then I shall graff it with a medlar. Then it will be the earliest fruit i’ th’ country; for you’ll be rotten ere you be half ripe, and that’s the right virtue of the medlar. The most famous reference to medlars, often bowdlerized until modern editions accepted it, appears in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, when Mercutio laughs at Romeo’s unrequited love for his mistress Rosaline.
Medlar jam and cake
To return to the present time I don’t think medlars aren’t really popular or even known. For one thing, they share the same name as loquats –nèfles. And, frankly, I don’t know too many people, except my grandma who make their own jam from it. Which works out great for me because I give out homemade jam for gifts.
Before I forgot, my grandma told me once that in Hungary people pick medlars after the frost, which breaks the flesh down as well. SoI plucked a few kilos from the tree of my friend’s and brought them home in order to make medlar jam. I used my grandma’s recipe’s, and as well British cooks’s, (such as Jamie Oliver and Nigel Slater) for guidance because I didn’t know much about how to deal with medlars. Mine took a bit of coaxing to be bletted. I did a little searching around for advice and most advise putting them in a cold place, in a single layer. A few experienced cooks suggested the refrigerator as the place to do it, and I did not realize when I bought it, but was surprised that my refrigerator did indeed have a “bletting chamber.” The first thing you need to know is that medlars need to be bletted, or left to soften and “rot” to a rusty-brown color!
Yet almost a month passed and my medlars were as good as new. As in, they were still rock-hard. So I took them out and put them near a chilly window. And let it behold, those little “arses” softened right up. (Although I think I picked mine a little less-ripe than they should have been.) Next up was cooking them then letting them strain overnight, similar to making apple jelly. Once the liquid is left to strain overnight, you might take a look at the brownish liquid and think that you’ll made a mistake by listening to me. Even I thought there was something wrong. But as I cooked the vicious, murky liquid with some sugar, the final result was a few jars of quivering, shimmering, rosy-red beautiful jelly. I only got two-and-a-half jars from three pounds of fruit, though, so I doubt I’ll be giving these precious jars away. In which case, I’d better get my own “derrière” in gear and find more free fruit, and make more jelly.
Medlar, bananas cake
Ingredients: 6 eggs, ¾ cup heavy cream, ¾ cup vegetable oil, 2½ cups all purpose flour, 3 tbsp baking powder, ½ cup hazelnut flour, 16 ripe Bermuda bananas or 10 regular bananas, 1 cup of medlar purée, 4 cups sugar, a pinch of salt, dashes of vanilla and lemon juice
Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter three one-quart kugelforms and dust with flour. Add sugar to eggs, beat until stiff then set aside. Purée bananas, then add vanilla and lemon juice, medlar or loquat purée, heavy cream and vegetable oil. Combine egg mixture with banana mixture.
Mix flour, hazelnut flour, salt and baking powder together. Fold well into banana batter. Fill forms three-quarters full, place on baking tray to ensure browning, and bake for 45 minutes.
Unmould as soon as possible after baking to avoid sogginess and let cool on rack. Bread freezes well if wrapped tightly and frozen same day.