Medlar trees grow very slowly to 10 to 25 feet tall (3 to 7.5 metres), with a spread of 7 to 15 feet (2 to 4 1/2 metres.) They can be propagated by grafting, or seed. The wood of the tree is light red and very hard with a very fine grain; it was often used for canes and walking sticks. The trees will start bearing fruit after 4 to 6 years, and are very long lived. The dull-green leaves are long and pointed with soft hairs on their undersides.
The trees bloom a month later than apple trees, producing pinky-white flowers. The trees are self-fertile.
The fruit is small and round. It starts off with greenish-yellow skin ripening to rust coloured. There is an indent at the top of the fruit, and many seed pips inside.
The fruit is picked in the autumn when the leaves start to fall off the tree. You pick them right after the first frost, when they are still hard. (The frost helps improve the flavour.) At this stage, they are both too sour and too hard to eat. The fruit needs to rot a bit first (this is called “bletting”) before it is actually considered “ripe” enough to eat. This takes about 2 to 3 weeks in storage, or upside down on a plate. They will become soft, mooshy brown, sweet and tasty with a flavour close to applesauce or cider.
Medlar varieties include: Dutch, Macrocarpa, Nottingham and Royal. Nottingham fruits are about 1 inch (2.5 cm) wide. The Dutch and Macrocarpa have somewhat larger fruit.
Medlar has fallen out of fashion. Neglected, it now grows wild or in abandoned orchards. Many of these trees are very, very old. Some are thought to be even centuries old.
You can eat Medlars out of hand, or make a thick sauce out of them which you then pour into a pie shell and bake. You don’t eat the skin: peel the stem end and squeeze the flesh out.
Medlar is very high in pectin. Good jellies and jams can be made from it.
Store in a dry place.
Medlar was probably native to the eastern Mediterranean.
It was grown in Greece by 700 BC; came to Rome about 200 BC. The Romans cultivated them. Medlars are shown in the mosaics at Pompeii.
Medlars were also very popular in the Middle Ages.
Literature & Lore
” 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.” — Rosalind. As You Like It: Act 3, Scene 2. Shakespeare.
Pronounced “medler”. Mespilon (Greek) > Mespilum (Latin) – Medlier (Middle French) – Medeler (Middle English) – Medlar.
At one point, it was thought that Medlar fruit had originated in Germany. Thus the “germanica” in its scientific name.
Fowler, Alys. Medlars. Manchester: The Guardian. 27 November 2010.
Melrose, R.B. Fruit varieties mostly at “Melrose Folly. Part 3. Medlar. “7 February 2002. Retrieved October 2006 from http://www-math.mit.edu/~rbm/Fruitd.pdf.