In the hedgerow, right at the end of our property, mixed up in a holly bush and half-hidden behind a pile of tree prunings left by the previous owner, Gabrielle has discovered a medlar tree. So we read (in the July 2002 edition of Country Life magazine, amongst a pile handed on to us by our neighbour Carole) it’s an attractive tree with a gnarled shape, pretty spring blossom and lovely red and yellow autumn foliage. With that in mind, we’ll try and clear around it to expose it more to view. It’s an import to Europe but has been around for centuries and was, apparently, a common site in 16th century English gardens. It’s a relative of the hawthorn and pear and has a fruit variously described as like a giant brown rosehip and a cross between a small russet apple and an oversize hawthorn haw. The biggest talking point is that, in order to eat it, you have to let it go rotten first! It’s a shame that doesn’t apply to more things, when I think of how many times in the past that I’ve bought fruit to put in the fruit bowl with all good healthy intentions, only to throw it, uneaten and rotting, in the compost a few weeks later.
The fruits are picked in November, after the first frost but are solid as a lump of wood and therefore inedible. They need to be stored in a cool and dark space until they have gone half-rotten, a process known as “bletting”. The brown flesh can now be scraped out with teeth or a spoon and is a grainy paste with a hint of a prune taste to it. If that appeals to you, it can be eaten just like that, or cream and sugar added and they can also be baked whole as one does with apples, roasted with butter and cloves or made into a jelly that goes well with game (see also Food for Free by Richard Mabey, the foragers bible).
Gabrielle had already discovered it but, when Paul was delivering the tree stumps for our Guy Fawkes bonfire (see 7th November blog) he told us about it (it being the time to harvest the medlar) and how he’d had to persuade the previous owner not to chop it down. He’s got a cultivated version with fruit twice the size (the photo above shows a mixture of our wild ones and Paul’s). When Gabrielle was round their farm later in the day, having coffee, Paul fetched some of his medlars, one of had already started to go rotten on the tree. Their daughter, Rosanne, demonstrated to Gabrielle that it was the rotten bit that needed to be eaten, something Gabrielle found very counter-intuitive!