“I ate it all, all of it, culminating in the platonic ideal of farmers’ markets: real farmers offering walnuts, honey, medlars in the bonkers ruins of Szimpla Kert.”
-Charlotte Mendelson, in The Financial Times
I saw some unappetising and somewhat obscene-looking fruit on a stall the other day and was told by the laughing stall holder that they were ‘open arses’, a name which I discovered was commonly used in the sixteenth century for what we now refer to as medlars.
Of course, I had to buy one and try it. To eat this fruit raw it has to be bletted – a softening process which occurs after the fruit has ripened (the same is true of the astringent type of persimmon), and in the process the flesh and skin turns from a light colour to brown. At this stage it looks and tastes a little like apple sauce, and it will go well with cheese, and perhaps, as D H Lawrence suggests in his poem below, marsala. Mark Diacono of Otter Farm describes their taste as being “like an apple had a child after an affair with a date”
However, if you prefer to cook them medlars have a lot of pectin so they make a good jelly. Go to David Lebovitz’ blog for a well researched recipe.
Medlars are available through the winter, and sometimes bletting occurs due to frost otherwise it’s a question of waiting a week or two, storing them in a single layer in a cold place, under a cloche if you have one.
The gardeners among you might be interested to know that it is a very attractive tree – it doesn’t grow much above 8 ft/2.5m but it will spread to become almost as wide as it is tall.
Those who like to give unusual presents might consider buying a tree and some medlar jelly packaged up in an impressive wooden crate, available from The Gluttonous Gardener.
Medlars And Sorb-apples
I LOVE you, rotten,
I love to suck you out from your skins
So brown and soft and coming suave,
So morbid, as the Italians say.
What a rare, powerful, reminiscent flavour
Comes out of your falling through the stages of decay:
Stream within stream.
Something of the same flavour as Syracusan muscat wine
Or vulgar Marsala.
Though even the word Marsala will smack of preciosity
Soon in the pussy-foot West.
What is it?
What is it, in the grape turning raisin,
In the medlar, in the sorb-apple.
Wineskins of brown morbidity,
What is it that reminds us of white gods?
Gods nude as blanched nut-kernels.
Strangely, half-sinisterly flesh-fragrant
As if with sweat,
And drenched with mystery.
Sorb-apples, medlars with dead crowns.
I say, wonderful are the hellish experiences
Dionysos of the Underworld.
A kiss, and a vivid spasm of farewell, a moment’s orgasm of rupture.
Then along the damp road alone, till the next turning.
And there, a new partner, a new parting, a new unfusing into twain,
A new gasp of isolation, intense
A new intoxication of loneliness, among decaying, frost-cold leaves.
Going down the strange lanes of hell, more and more intensely alone,
The fibres of the heart parting one after the other
And yet the soul continuing, naked-footed, ever more vividly embodied
Like a flame blown whiter and whiter
In a deeper and deeper darkness
Ever more exquisite, distilled in separation.
So, in the strange retorts of medlars and sorb-apples
The distilled essence of hell.
The exquisite odour of leave-taking. Jamque vale!
Orpheus, and the winding, leaf-clogged, silent lanes of hell.
Each soul departing with its own isolation.
Strangest of all strange companions,
More than sweet
Flux of autumn
Sucked out of your empty bladders
And sipped down, perhaps, with a sip of Marsala
So that the rambling, sky-dropped grape can add its
Orphic farewell, and farewell, and farewell
And the ego sum of Dionysos
The sono io of perfect drunkenness
Intoxication of final loneliness.
-D. H. Lawrence
“That ilke fruyt is ever lenger the wers,
Til it be roten in mullok or in stree.
We olde men, I drede, so fare we:
Til we be toten, kan we nat be rype;”
-Geoffrey Chaucer, The Reeve’s Tale