We’ve never had a medlar before.
The one in our new garden seems to be a pretty healthy specimen and we’ve been reading up all about the genus. Apparently the medlar is a sub-species of the massive Rosaceae family, which includes not just roses but also lots of other well-known species such as, amongst a total of more than 200, hawthorns, rowans (Mountain Ash), cotoneasters and even plums; and, having read this, I can of course see the resemblance in the fruits, whose structure is slightly reminiscent of that of rose hips and hawthorn berries.
It looks as though the apple-like fruit of our tree are nearly ripe. But in fact we’ll have to wait until they are close to rotting before we can use them. In common with quince and some others – including the berries of the Mountain Ash, I read – medlars must be ‘bletted’ before they can be eaten. Even then, the taste is quite tart. We’ll need to keep them somewhere cool and wait until they’re nearly decaying before sampling them. I hope it’s worth the wait …
I’ve always thought of medlars as a very old, traditional shrub or small tree; which seems to be correct. As it turns out, there’ve been many references to them in literature over the centuries, not always complimentary and not always of the kind suitable for being read by those of a more refined literary palate, as this excerpt from an eighteenth century gardening guide illustrates (those of a sensitive disposition look away now!)
“Medlar: 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.”
It’s attracted many equally vulgar word pictures such as cul de chien (dog’s arse) – and other even more outlandish descriptions which are probably best left unrecorded here.
Shakespeare was less than impressed by the medlar. He clearly thought it very bitter to the taste and unattractive to the eye. There are numerous references to the fruit in his works; and its reputation was obviously sufficiently well-developed for him to be confident that this salacious remark in Romeo and Juliet would prompt a hearty guffaw amongst the groundlings …
BENVOLIO: Come, he hath hid himself among these trees,
To be consorted with the humorous night:
Blind is his love and best befits the dark.
MERCUTIO: If love be blind, love cannot hit the mark.
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.
O Romeo! that she were, O! that she were
An open et cœtera, thou a poperin pear.
Well, we’ll see what develops, though I doubt whether we’ll have a sufficiently large crop to make medlar jam, jelly or wine. Maybe seek them out at the next village fete?
In other news …
Echinacea (‘Cone Flower’)
Formium – doing surprisingly well in the shade of the Medlar
Honeysuckle – huge Horse Chestnut in the background
Painting (public domain): Romeo & Juliet (1870) by Ford Madox Brown