November 9, 2014
MEDLAR [german – Mispel]
Medlar has fallen out of fashion – to say the least – and there is a good reason for it [but I’m coming to that later]. Is a fruit related to quinces and apples, and is part of the rose family. Despite its Latin name meaning ‘Germanic medlar’, it is indigenous to southwest Asia and southeast Europe. It was an important fruit plant during Roman and medieval times. It may have been cultivated for as long as 3000 years. Neglected it now grows mainly wild or in abandoned orchards – many trees being centuries old.
Medlars were popular in literature – used for example by Chaucer, Shakespeare and Dekker – mainly if they wanted to compare something with an arse.
The medlar tree blooms a month later than apple trees, producing pinky-white flowers. The fruit is picked late October, early November when the leaves start to fall of the tree. Right after the first frost [the frost improves the flavor] – while still being hard.
SHOPPING + STORAGE
The medlar fruit is small and round with wide-spreading sepals around a central pit – giving it a hollow appearance [looking a bit like an over-grown rose hip]. A ‘wild’ medlar will have a diameter of 1.5 to 3 centimeters – cultured forms can get a diameter of up to 8 centimeters.
When buying you should check that the skin is smooth, firm and unbroken as well as free of bruises and blemishes. The fruit starts off with a greenish-yellow skin – ripening to rust colored. If you only get greenish ones just store them in a dry place until they go brown and very soft. The warmer it is the faster this will happen [usually around 2 to 3 weeks].
HOW TO EAT
Fruit right off of the tree is hard and sour [not eatable]. By storing them bitter tannins and fruit acids are broken down, the sugar content rises and the fruit gets tender. And by storing I mean it needs to rot [this is called ‘bletting’ – browned by rot]. Yes, this is what you are going for – not the white one – the mushy brown and nearly rotten pulp on the right! Yummy!
Once the softening begins, the skin rapidly takes on a wrinkled texture and turns dark brown. The inside reduces to the consistency of apple sauce. The fruit looks as if it has spoiled – but now it is sweet and tasty with a flavor close to cinnamon applesauce or cider [just keep your eyes closed when eating].
A 18th century definition of medlar fruit gives a great description. ‘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.’
Medlar is eaten raw and in a range of dishes [medlar cheese, creams, wine …] – mainly eaten as a dessert with cheese or tarts. They can be cooked into jams and jellies as they are high in pectin. It is said that the unique flavor of the fruit goes well with all wine
If you eat it out of hand – don’t eat the skin! Break the skin and squeeze out the flesh.
You will find that they have 5 seeds [and the flesh seriously sticks to the seeds].
Medlars are fat free, saturated fat free, cholesterol free and sodium free. They were used in folk medicine because of their diuretic and astringent effects. In Iran the fruits, leaves, bark and wood were used as medicines for ailments including diarrhea, bloating of the stomach, throat abscesses and fever.
Unripe fruit were used with leaves and bark for tannings. They also reduce the turbidity of wine, cider and perry.
Nutritional value per 100g fresh fruit [% of Daily Value]