In Praise of Medlars - Get the Most from these Delicious Fruit

, written by gb flag

Medlar fruits

When so many fruit trees offer an abundance of pink and white blossom in spring, it's striking to find one that doesn't. The medlar tree (Mespilus germanica) may not foam with flowers, but the large individual white blooms, against long glossy leaves, are very handsome.

So why isn't it widely grown? Well, not many trees have a greater image problem. First, its tomato-sized, golden-green fruit usually have to soften and go brown before you can eat them. People delight in saying the fruit has to rot.

Secondly, you constantly read that it is an "acquired taste".

Thirdly, the fruit is also known by a name that recalls the unattractive end of a dog (in French it's "cul de chien").

Unfair, unfair and…well, OK, there is something in its appearance that recalls that part of the canine anatomy.

Why You Should Grow a Medlar Tree

Let's reassess. The fruit from my tree is sweet, slightly citrus, with overtones of stewed apples. Delicious. I think it's far more likely that it's the idea that they have to soften that is the "acquired taste", but there is a difference between rotting (which makes a fruit unpalatable) and "bletting", the softening process which turns a medlar's tartness to sugars. The flesh becomes a creamy (albeit brown) puree – giving you processed fruit straight from the tree!

Medlar blossom

The tree is also self-fertile, so you only need one, and is particularly free of pests and diseases. Once the formative shape has been created in its first years, you really only have to remove any dead, diseased or overcrowded branches. Regular pruning is not needed.

The medlar can be grown as a bush on a dwarfing rootstock, but as a tree it has a lovely spreading, almost weeping habit and works as a half-standard (3.6-4.5m (12-15 ft) high) in a bed or, being so ornamental, as a specimen tree in a lawn. At Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire, UK, they've even topiarised theirs.

Several cultivars exist, including "Royal" which some say can be eaten before bletting. "Nottingham" is best-known and most widely available, with a good flavor.

Where to Grow a Medlar

Medlars aren't really fussy. They prefer a warm, sheltered site with moist, well-drained soil (don't we all?) but will do well in most soils, so long as they're not excessively chalky or badly drained. It's worth watering them in very dry spells, especially in the first three or four years of life.

Strong winds can damage the flowers, so it's best to ensure they're not too exposed. They will tolerate partial shade - mine is at the back of an overshadowed, east-facing bed that only receives sun for a couple of hours a day, but it still produces well.

Harvesting Medlar Fruit

Some people leave the fruit to drop to the ground but it's easier to keep an eye on the fruits if you pick them in late October or November, while still hard. Store them in a single layer on dry sand or paper, stalk upwards, somewhere cool and airy (it doesn't have to be dark). It's a good idea to dip the stalks in a strong salt solution to prevent molds and rotting.

Any time from a week to three weeks later, the fruit will have bletted. The skin will have browned and possibly become slightly wrinkled, and the fruit will be soft to the touch. Eat as soon as it's ready, as this seems to be when it's at its most tangy and citrus.

Bletted medlar

How to Eat Medlar Fruit

What you definitely don't get is a lot to eat from each medlar (they contain several, fairly chunky stones – "pips" just doesn't paint the right picture) and my favorite way is to eat them is to scoop the flesh straight from the fruit with a teaspoon. It makes a delicacy with wine, port or cheese. You can also mix the pulp with sugar and cream but I think this actually reduces its flavor. Adding it to breakfast yogurt is something of a treat.

Medlars are probably best known, however, for being made into a jelly or cheese, when the fruits are stewed whole and passed through a sieve. You'll need a fair number to make more than a small jarful, but the fun will be in getting your friends to guess what it is.

By Helen Gazeley

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Comments

 
"I have had my medlar tree for eight years and it is growing well. The first year I had fruit but none since. It looks healthy and has new growth each year. Do you have any ideas as to why I am not getting any fruit now?"
Val on Thursday 9 April 2015
"Hi Val, it's difficult to say why you're not getting fruit, but as Helen says above the flowers are easily damaged by strong winds, so if you live in a windy spot it's possible that this is the cause (no flowers = no fruit). It would also be worth checking that the soil your medlar tree is growing in is not too wet, or becoming too dry. It might also be worth giving the tree a mulch of compost or well-rotted manure during spring to give it a boost of nutrients. I hope that helps!"
Ann Marie Hendry on Saturday 11 April 2015
"I have recently acquired a fully grown garden with mature fruit trees. One of these may be a medlar, with small apple type fruit. I have not noticed their flower in Spring. The leaves resemble the apple tree, with pointed,non shiny, deciduous leaves, being every other along the stem."
carol on Tuesday 6 September 2016
"Hi Carol. What you have could well be a medlar. The flowers in spring are stunning and look a little but like pure-white rambling rose flowers. Search 'bletting medlars' online - this is the best way to prepare medlars for eating."
Ben Vanheems on Friday 9 September 2016
"How much fruits any medlar tree can produce? "
mehdi on Wednesday 5 October 2016
"Medlars begin to produce their fruits about three to four years after planting. As regards the yield from a tree, it's hard to say, but essentially you could expect as many medlar fruits as you might get from an apple tree - so quite a lot!"
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 6 October 2016
"In Ireland, Dublin, we have three medlars in our community garden grown up against a wall. We're still waiting for the fruit to 'blet' but in the meantime I add them to apples to make fruit jellies as the pectin content is high. As an added insult to the poor tree one of our famous radio presenters calls the fruit 'open arsed apples'"
Caroline on Monday 7 November 2016
"Ha, ha! 'Open arsed apples' - what a unfortunate, though fairly accurate, description! They taste a lot better though!"
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 8 November 2016
"Hi, I planted a medlar tree in my country escape in Bulgaria some 10 yrs ago.Every late autumn I gather quite many 'open - arsed apples. Delicious, I eat them when rotten and give some to my friends. What about how to make medlar wine and the recipe is....@=?"
Rush Vessel on Thursday 17 November 2016
"When my grandma got married in Scotland her family sent her a hamper of medlars every November. She always said that when they had bletted you must eat them with s silver spoon. I do. delicious"
mary on Friday 25 November 2016
"A very special eating experience deserves a very special silver spoon!"
Ben Vanheems on Monday 28 November 2016
"I have one Breda Giant Medlar that is about 6 years old. It produces abundant fruit. Waiting for them to fully blet is key. I have had trouble in the past with mold getting them, but this year I made sure to dry them well and keep them in a cold protected place (garage). I have made medlar cheese with them but I must say I like them best with yogurt, or paired with wine and cheese. An excellent under appreciated fruit. "
richard goodfried on Thursday 8 December 2016
"They would make an excellent accompaniment to wine and cheese - a very civilised idea! Many thanks for sharing Richard."
Ben Vanheems on Friday 9 December 2016
"I'm really fascinated with this tree and its fruit and am considering planting one or two in our garden. Open to hearing if October is a good month to plant, and figuring out a good place to find/order medlars. Any advice is appreciated. "
Rose Edington on Saturday 19 August 2017
"What zone will the tree grow in?"
Margaret on Wednesday 23 August 2017
"Hi Rose. October is a good month to plant if winter's aren't exceptionally cold where you live. It will give the tree/s time to settle into their new home before the new growing season. There are many nurseries stocking medlars. The variety 'Nottingham' has an RHS Award of Merit, so is highly recommended. Many nurseries stock medlars - go for a reputable one close to you, or order online from a specialist fruit nursery/stockist."
Ben Vanheems on Friday 25 August 2017
"Hi Margaret. Medlars grow well in USDA zones 4-9, with zones 6-9 especially suited."
Ben Vanheems on Friday 25 August 2017
"I bought a young bare root medlar 2 years ago it only has 4 branches and I had no fruit the first year but this year I have 4 branches absolutely full of fruit! cat wait to try them, oh I must buy a silver spoon for my first try..."
julie on Friday 15 September 2017
"Hi Julie. Truly splendid, enjoy every last precious morsel! You deserve it!"
Ben Vanheems on Friday 15 September 2017
"Last autumn I made my first medlar wine- not much, about 5 litres. This hot summer we enjoyed it cold enough and taste like nectar, for sure there is 10% alcohol in it at least and after 2 wine glasses- 400 mlrs I slept very comfortably."
Rush Vessel on Saturday 16 September 2017
"Wow Rush - that sounds like a delicious and heady brew. I don't know of anyone else that's made medlar wine. What a precious nectar indeed!"
Ben Vanheems on Monday 18 September 2017
"I have just discovered I have a medlar tree in my front garden in Poitou-Charante. France. I am looking forward to trying the fruit, which on October 20th is about cricket-ball sized. And perhaps planting another tree."
Keith Rutter on Friday 19 October 2018
"Oh wow - what a fantastic surprise! I hope it tastes delicious. Bon appétit!"
Ben Vanheems on Monday 22 October 2018
"GBR I had them long time ago 1947 sent to my mother by a friend from Carpathian Mtn Romania by their name MOSMOANE (PRON MOSHMOANE) Now I have 10 seeds from Ireland and I will plant them all on my land in Grainger Co E.Tennessee to see what grade will I give them GBR TN USA/"
GBR on Wednesday 5 December 2018
"Good luck with growing them - what a wonderful opportunity!"
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 6 December 2018
"Heard Medla fruit trees mentioned on Canadian T.V. (Escape to the Country, UK). Sound interesting but can so far find no Ontario, Canada source. Will keep looking but if anyone can help it would be appreciated. Don't know if they would like the Ontario winter climate. Dave B."
David Bergin on Thursday 20 December 2018
"Hi Dave. Medlars are hardy down to about plant hardiness zone 4, so if you live in the south of Ontario then you'll be fine growing them."
Ben Vanheems on Friday 21 December 2018
"Thank you for the article. I'm making medlar jelly today and some of my bletted medlars have black hard spots inside. They don't have an off smell, but is it safe to add these to the batch, or should I toss them? Happy New Year!"
Shawna on Thursday 27 December 2018
"Hi Shawna. It’s hard to say what may have happened to your medlars. My instinct is that if they don’t smell then there’s probably little risk in including them with the other medlars when making your jelly, especially as the liquid will be boiled, thereby negating any risk. That said, if you’re concerned, it may be best to cut the black bits out or discarding affected fruits entirely. Sorry I can’t be more definitive on this!"
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 27 December 2018
"Thanks Ben! I never dreamed you'd answer so quickly...lol...this question was more for future reference since this is my first ever batch and I was excited to get going. The black stuff didn't taste like anything and didn't fall apart, so I left it in. The batch smelled amazing while cooking. "
Shawna on Thursday 27 December 2018
"Hope you enjoy it. It’s quite a rare treat so savour every delicious morsel!"
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 27 December 2018
"Well here in the central Algarve, in our small town in the hills about 18 km north of Faro at an altitude of 230 metres, medlar are selling now (16 May) at € 2,80 a kilo. So I've just picked a few from our tree that the previous farmers must have planted about 10-20 years ago. Nothing as you describe about letting the fruit wait until October to go brown and mushy. The ones I picked this evening are still somewhat acid but quite tasty, so I shall wait a few more weeks and see if our irrigation system will stretch far enough to provide some water, as we don't expect to see any rain for at least the next three months of scorching temperatures. "
David Whiting on Thursday 16 May 2019
"Thanks for sharing that David. I bet they'll be absolutely outstanding in a few more weeks."
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 16 May 2019
"Again the medlar wine I made this winter, filled in 7-8 wine bottles and as is hot in BG I keep a bottle in the fridge. last week a friend visited me at my country escape, we had two wine glasses each and he phone me later that he slept alright in the afternoon, I do not know why but I had some dreams and a nightmare which i forgot once I awakened."
Rush Vess on Tuesday 11 June 2019
"Wow Rush - it seems like you have a very potent brew there!"
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 11 June 2019

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