MESPILUS GERMANICA, known as the MEDLAR or COMMON MEDLAR, is a large
shrub or small tree, and the name of the fruit of this tree. The fruit
has been cultivated since Roman times, and is unusual in being
available in winter, and in being eaten when bletted . It is eaten raw
and in a range of dishes. When the genus
Mespilus is included in the
* 1 Origins and related species * 2 Description and ecology * 3 Cultivation and uses
* 4 In literature
* 4.1 Chaucer * 4.2 Shakespeare * 4.3 Other 16th- and 17th-century authors * 4.4 Modern literature
* 5 Gallery * 6 References * 7 External links
ORIGINS AND RELATED SPECIES
Despite its Latin name, which means German or Germanic medlar, it is
indigenous to southwest Asia and also southeastern Europe, especially
the Black Sea coasts of Bulgaria and of modern Turkey. It may have
been cultivated for as long as 3,000 years. The ancient Greek
Mespilus germanica was the only known species of
medlar. However, in 1990, a new species was discovered in North
America, now named
Mespilus canescens . The loquat , Eriobotrya
japonica, is more distantly related than genera such as
From an extensive study of literature and plant specimens, Kazimierz Browicz concluded that the
DESCRIPTION AND ECOLOGY
Mespilus germanica requires warm summers and mild winters and prefers sunny, dry locations and slightly acidic soil. Under ideal circumstances, the deciduous plant grows up to 8 metres (26 ft) tall. Generally, it is shorter and more shrub-like than tree-like. With a lifespan of 30–50 years, the medlar tree is rather short-lived. Its bark is greyish brown with deep vertical cracks forming rectangular plates that tend to lift off. The leaves are dark green and elliptic, 8–15 centimetres (3.1–5.9 in) long and 3–5 centimetres (1.2–2.0 in) wide. The leaves are densely hairy (pubescent) below, and turn red in autumn before falling. It is found across Southern Europe where it is generally rare. It is reported to be naturalized in some woods in Southeast England, but is found in few gardens.
The flowers have five broadly ovate white petals. The flowers appear in late spring, are hermaphrodite, pollinated by bees, and self-fertile . The flower is 6 centimetres (2.4 in) wide. The reddish-brown fruit is a pome , 2–3 centimetres (0.79–1.18 in) diameter, with wide-spreading persistent sepals around a central pit, giving a 'hollow' appearance to the fruit.
CULTIVATION AND USES
Bletting begins on one side of the fruit. Bletted flesh is brown; ripe but unbletted flesh is white.
The medlar was introduced to Greece around 700 BC, and to Rome about 200 BC. It was an important fruit plant during Roman and medieval times. By the 17th and 18th centuries, however, it had been superseded by other fruits, and is little cultivated today. M. germanica pomes are one of the few fruits that become edible in winter, making it an important tree for gardeners who wish to have fruit available all year round. M. germanica plants can be grafted on to the rootstock of another species, for example the pear , quince , or hawthorn , to improve their performance in different soils.
Mespilus germanica fruits are hard and acidic, but become edible after being softened, 'bletted', by frost, or naturally in storage given sufficient time. Once softening begins, the skin rapidly takes on a wrinkled texture and turns dark brown, and the inside reduces to the consistency and flavour reminiscent of apple sauce . This process can confuse those new to medlars, as a softened fruit looks as if it has spoiled.
Once bletted, the fruit can be eaten raw and is often eaten as a dessert , or used to make medlar jelly . They are used in "Medlar cheese", which is similar to lemon curd , being made with the fruit pulp, eggs, and butter. So-called medlar tea is usually not made from M. germanica but from wolfberry or goji, which is sometimes called "red medlar".
Cultivars of Mespilus germanica that are grown for their fruit include 'Hollandia', 'Nottingham', and 'Russian', the large-fruited variety 'Dutch' (also known as 'Giant' or 'Monstrous'), 'Royal', 'Breda giant', and 'Large Russian'.
A basket of medlars
A fruit which is rotten before it is ripe, the medlar is used
figuratively in literature as a symbol of prostitution or premature
destitution. For example, in the Prologue to The Reeve\'s Tale ,
Measure for Measure
In As You Like It , Rosalind makes a complicated pun involving grafting her interlocuter with the trees around her which bear love letters and with a medlar "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." (III.ii.116-119).
The most famous reference to medlars, often bowdlerized until modern
editions accepted it, appears in Shakespeare's
Romeo and Juliet
In the 16th and 17th centuries, medlars were bawdily called "open-arses" because of the shape of the fruits, inspiring boisterous or humorously indecent puns in many Elizabethan and Jacobean plays .
OTHER 16TH- AND 17TH-CENTURY AUTHORS
Thomas Dekker also draws a comparison in his play
The Honest Whore
Another reference can be found in
In the Memoirs of Glückel of Hameln , Glückel recalls having had a craving for medlars when she was pregnant with her son Joseph, but ignoring the desire. When the baby was born, he was sickly and too weak to be breastfed. Remembering a superstition about the dangers of pregnant women not fulfilling their cravings, Glückel asked for someone to fetch her some medlars for the baby. As soon as the fruit touched the baby's lips, he ate all the pulp given to him, and was then able to be breastfed. (Book 4, Section 14)
In modern literature, some writers have mentioned this fruit:
D. H. Lawrence : "Wineskins of brown morbidity, autumnal excrementa ... an exquisite odour of leave taking".
C.J. Sansom : in Dark Fire refers to "... medlar orchard. The white scentless blossoms of that strange fruit, which must be left to hang on the tree until it decays ..... "
Medlar growing on Hawthorn rootstock *
Ripe (bletted) and unripe fruit
* ^ A B Baird, J.R.; Thieret, J.W. (1989). The Medlar (Mespilus germanica, Rosaceae) from antiquity to obscurity. Economic Botany. 43(3): 328–372. preview * ^ http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/searchresults?q=me/spilon&target=greek&doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0197&expand=lemma Evans, R.C.; Morgan, D.R.; Dickinson, T.A.; Arsenault, M.P. (2007). "Phylogeny of subtribe Pyrinae (formerly the Maloideae, Rosaceae): Limited resolution of a complex evolutionary history" (PDF). Plant Systematics and Evolution. 266 (1–2): 119–145. doi :10.1007/s00606-007-0545-y . * ^ A B C Mitchell, Alan (1978). A Field Guide to the Trees of Britain and Northern Europe (2 ed.). Collins. p. 277. * ^ "Plants for a Future". * ^ "Medlar". Royal Horticultural Society. 2011. Retrieved 8 July 2013. * ^ Glew, R.H.; Ayaz, F.A.; Sanz, C.; VanderJagt, D.J.; Huang, H.S.; Chuang, L.T.; Strnad, M. (2003). "Changes in sugars, organic acids and amino acids in medlar ( Mespilus germanica L.) during fruit development and maturation". Food Chemistry. 83 (3): 363–369. doi :10.1016/s0308-8146(03)00097-9 . * ^ Rop, O.; Sochor, J.; Jurikova, T.; Zitka, O.; Skutkova, H.; Mlcek, J.; Salas, P.; Krska, B.; Babula, P.; Adam, V.; Kramarova, D.; Beklova, M.; Provaznik, I.; Kizek, R. (2011). "Effect of Five Different Stages of Ripening on Chemical Compounds in Medlar (Mespilus germanica L.)". Molecules. 16 (74-91). doi :10.3390/molecules16010074 . * ^ A B Martin, James. "Medlars recipes". British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 8 July 2013. * ^ "Nigel Slater on... medlars". Royal Horticultural Society. Retrieved 8 July 2013. * ^ McAdam, Diana (12 October 2007). "Goji berries: The new superfruit". The (Daily) Telegraph. Retrieved 8 July 2013. * ^ Phipps, J.B.; O’Kennon, R.J.; Lance, R.W. 2003. Hawthorns and medlars. Royal Horticultural Society, Cambridge, U.K. * ^ Glowinski, L. 1991. The complete book of fruit growing in Australia. Thomas C. Lothian Pty Ltd, Port Melbourne, Victoria.