(Mespilus germanica – Family Rosaceae)
nèfle (French), Mispel (German), nespola (Italian), nêspera (Portuguese), mispel (Danish/Norwegian/Swedish), mispeli (Finnish), mushmula germanskaya (Russian), niesplik (Polish), musmula/mespola (Serbo-Croat), mosmon (Romanian), moushmoula (Bulgarian), musmula (Turkish), sheseq germani (Hebrew), alu ‘i dashti (Persian), seiyokarin (Japanese)
Medlars are the fruits of small trees related to the apple and other fruits of the Rose family. The fruits are apple-like in appearance, but have two unusual characteristics.
One is that they are open at the bottom end exposing the five seed boxes.
The other is they are only edible when they are rotten. However, the more politically correct term is “bletted”.
If left on the tree, medlars seldom ripen to where they can be eaten and must be removed to blet. Even when fully ripe in autumn, medlars remain hard, green, astringent, and seemingly inedible.
The process of bletting is traditionally achieved by spreading the unripened fruit on straw, sawdust, or bran, and leaving them for several weeks to decay. By then, the fruit can be spooned out of its peel.
To speed up the process, medlars can be frozen, to break up the cell structure, and then left to decay at room temperature. The flesh has a dry, sticky texture, tasting a little like dates, but more tart. Fondness for this fruit is definitely an acquired taste.
Medlars originated in Persia, but can be found growing wild in Asia Minor and Southern Europe. They were first cultivated by the Assyrians, who introduced them to ancient Greece and Rome before the 2nd century BCE. In Victorian England, they were often eaten at the end of a meal as a dessert.
Their strange taste was popular, and they were brought to the table in their bran or sawdust. The brown pulp was then scooped out and mixed with sugar and cream. Making jelly from the fruit was also popular.
They are rarely sold anymore, but sometimes they can still be found growing wild. There are some cultivated varieties, including a seedless one. Medlars have fallen out of favour and are virtually unheard of in the US or Canada.
More success has been achieved by grafting onto hawthorn stock rather than onto quince or pear.
The name “Naples medlar” has been used for the azarole fruit, and the “Japanese medlar” is just another name for the loquat.