Saturday, May 4, 2013

Medlar: The Fruit of Misunderstanding

by Melanie and Alexander 
The medlar is no ordinary fruit; it has inspired reverence and revulsion because of its obscure ripening process.  The centre of a medlar flower invites curiosity and introspection. Flirtatious stigmas and stamens reflect the self-fertilizing nonchalance of a fruit which is edible when it borders on rotting. As the medlar fruit matures on the tree it resembles an apple with a crown at its bottom. 

Its nether region is the source of risqué references in literature, including this one from William  Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (II, 1, 34-38):
"Now will he sit under a medlar tree,
And wish his mistress were that kind of fruit
As maids call medlars, when they laugh alone.
O Romeo, that she were, O that she were
An open-arse and thou a poperin pear!"

They are said to be “A fruit that ripens through its own corruption”.
Medlar is related to quinces and apples, and part of the rose family. 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.)
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 leaves are long and pointed with hairs underneath them.

The trees bloom a month later than apple trees, producing pinky-white flowers. 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 several seeds 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. At this stage, they are not only too hard to eat;
they are also too sour 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. They will
become soft, mooshy brown, sweet and tasty with a flavour close to applesauce or cider. If
the word "rot" is too indelicate, you could always say that they need to mature, like a wine or
 “Bletting,” permits the breakdown of starches into sugars. As the flesh softens the inside of a
medlar begins to resemble applesauce. It is precisely at this time that notes of cider, spice
and the musk of ripe apricots develops. There is short window of time between edible and
rotten, which has led to adoration by connoisseurs and disgust by those who cannot contend
with the medlar’s fermentation. The fruit is more tenacious than those who have no patience
for its obscurity. In addition to being self-pollinating the medlar can set fruit without
pollination—nature’s reckoning for those who misunderstand this amazing fruit.
Medlars may be eaten raw, cooked or baked. Jellies are commonly made as the fruit is
naturally rich in pectin. 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 CHEESE (An old recipe!) 
Put some Medlars into an earthenware jar, stand it in a saucepan with boiling water nearly to
the top and keep it boiling gently over a slow fire. When the Medlars are quite soft, pass them
through a fine hair sieve, and weigh the pulp, and for every pound allow one and a half
breakfast cups of coarsely crushed loaf sugar and half a teaspoonful of allspice. Put all the
ingredients together in the preserving pan, and stir them over the fire with a wooden spoon
until thickly reduced, skimming occasionally. Turn the cheese into moulds, and keep them in a
cold place. When ready to serve, turn the cheeses out of the moulds on to a dish.
From Theodore Garrett The Encyclopaedia of Practical Cookery (London 1880)

MEDLAR CHEESE (A modern translation) 
Put some Medlars into a Pyrex bowl, stand it in a saucepan with boiling water nearly to the
top and keep it boiling gently over a slow heat. When the Medlars are quite soft, pass them
through a fine sieve, and weigh the pulp, and for every pound allow one and a half breakfast
cups of coarsely crushed sugar and half a teaspoonful of allspice. Put all the ingredients
together in a preserving pan, and stir them over the heat with a wooden spoon until thickly
reduced, skimming occasionally. Turn the cheese into moulds, and keep them in a cold place.
When ready to serve, turn the cheeses out of the moulds on to a dish.
MEDLAR CHEESE (A Country Harvest Cookbook)
Equal weights of medlar pulp and sugar
1–2 oranges or 3-6 mandarins – juice and zest
Ground cloves
Stir pulp and sugar together in a pan, add the juice and zest of the oranges (or mandarins) to
Heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the pulp is thick and comes away from the sides of the
pan. Remove from heat.
Add cloves to taste and mix well. Pour into a buttered dish or tray. When dry, cut into
squares (can be sprinkled with sugar) and store in airtight containers with fresh bay leaves
between layers of baking paper. Serve as a sweetmeat with coffee or cheese.

MEDLAR JELLY (Method 1: Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall)
• 1kg medlars (quartered but not peeled)
• 500g Bramley cooking apples
• About 650g granulated sugar
1. Quarter the medlars. Peel and chop the apples and tip the fruit into a preserving pan, or
any heavy-bottomed, deep, wide pan, with just enough water to cover.
2. Bring to a simmer and cook for 30-45 minutes, until the medlars are soft and pulpy.
3. Strain through a jelly bag on a stand set over a large bowl. Don't be tempted to poke,
squeeze or force the pulp through the bag or you'll get a cloudy jelly, just leave it to drip over
the bowl for several hours or overnight. Don't discard the pulp though – it’s perfect for adding
to our chutney.
4. Measure the juice, pour into a clean preserving pan and bring to boiling point before adding
the sugar (for every 1l of juice, add 650g of sugar). Stir, in one direction only to reduce foam,
until sugar is totally dissolved then boil rapidly for 8 minutes or until the setting point is
reached. If you have a preserving thermometer, it should read 104.5°C; if you don’t have a
thermometer, drop a little jelly onto a saucer which you have chilled in the fridge. Let the jelly cool for a minute then push it gently with your finger. If it crinkles, it has reached its setting
point. Remove from the heat and skim off any scum using a slotted spoon.
5. Decant carefully into a warm jug and pour into warm, sterilised jars.

MEDLAR JELLY (Method 2: A Country Harvest cookbook) 
Put soft, ripe medlars whole into a pan and just cover with water. Cook gently until the fruit is
pulpy. Place into a double layer of muslin, and hang over a basin so that the juice drips into
the basin. Leave overnight. Measure the liquid into a pan. Add 2 cups of sugar for every 2½
cups of juice. Heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves, then boil rapidly until the jelly sets when
tested. Pour into warm, sterilised jars.

Sieve the pulp left in the muslin – this can be stored in the refrigerator and used in the recipes
below. It can also be sweetened to taste, maybe add some spices and/or citrus zest, and
used in smoothies, served with yoghurt or ice cream, stirred into porridge, etc.

MEDLAR AND APPLE CHUTNEY (Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall)
• 3-4 tbsp sunflower oil
• 4 tbsp mustard seeds
• 2 tbsp crushed black peppercorns
• 1 tbsp fenugreek seeds
• 1 tbsp ground cumin
• 2 tsp turmeric
• 1 bulb of garlic, peeled and grated
• 5-7cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
• 6 fresh red chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
• 2kg Bramley apples, cored and chopped
• 500g dark Muscovado sugar
• 500ml cider vinegar
• 2 tbsp salt
• The left over pulp from the medlar jelly, or about 700g pears, peeled, cored and
1. Warm the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over a medium heat and add the spices,
stirring well and frying until the mustard seeds just begin to pop. This will only take a minute
or so – be careful not to scorch the spices. Add the garlic, ginger and chillies, stir well, and fry
gently for few minutes.
2. Tip the chopped apples into a large preserving pan and pour over the spices.
3. Add the sugar, vinegar and salt, along with the left over pulp from the medlar jelly, or the
pears if you are using them instead.
4. Stir over a low heat until the sugar dissolves, then simmer for about 2 hours until thickened,
stirring occasionally and adding a little water if you think it’s beginning to look too thick.
5. Bottle in warm, sterilised jars, filling the jars really full as the mixture will shrink slightly as it
cools. Seal with vinegar-proof lids.

MEDLAR CAKE (A Country Harvest Cookbook) 
½ cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup medlar pulp
½ -1 cup sultanas
1tsp bicarb
1tsp hot water
½ - 1tsp ground cloves
2 cups plain flour
Grated rind of 1 lemon or orange
¼ cup walnuts
Cream butter and sugar until smooth, and blend in the medlar pulp and sultanas.
Dissolve the bicarb in the hot water and add to the mixture.
Sift the cloves and flour and fold in with the grated rind.
Put into a greased tin and sprinkle with walnuts
Bake at 180C for 1 hour.

MEDLAR TART (A Country Harvest Cookbook – this is an old Elizabethan recipe)) 
“Take medlars that are rotten, strain them, and set them on a chaffing dish of coals, season
them with sugar, cinamon and ginger, put some yolks of eggs to them, let it boil a little, and
lay it in a cut tart; being baked scrape on sugar.”
Robert May The Accomplisht Cook 1660
Shortcrust pastry shell (use your favourite recipe)
Medlar pulp
Sugar to taste
Spices – ginger, cinnamon or cloves
Grated citrus peel
Egg yolks
Beat the pulp and egg yolks until thick and smooth. Blend in sugar and spice (amount to suit
your tastes), and grated citrus peel. Spoon into the pie shell and bake at 200C until the
pastry is brown and the filling set (depending on your oven, this should take about 30
Variations: You can add some dried fruits (sultanas, glace peel, etc), or nuts. The egg
whites can be beaten to stiff peaks, sweetened with sugar, and piled on top before cooking to
make a medlar meringue pie.

Makes about 4lbs
- 2lbs medlars
- 2 small lemons
- 3 cloves
- 1pint apple cider
- 2lb light brown sugar
- Honey or maple syrup to taste, cream and macaroons to serve.
• Wash and chop fruit, add cloves and cider.
• Simmer until fruit is soft.
• Sieve and weigh the pulp.
• Add three quarters of its weight in sugar and bring back to boil, then bottle and seal.
• When required, whip the fruit cheese with honey or maple syrup until soft, spoon into
bowls and top with whipped cream and broken macaroons.

Black Pepper
Squish the medlars, as many as you have or have patience to squish. (The stuff that's left
after you smoosh your medlars: Pour boiling water over it, and leave to cool. Strain through a
sieve and you have MEDLAR NECTAR.)
Put the pulp in a pan with a like amount of honey, e.g. 1/2 cup medlar to 1/2 cup of honey.
To that, put what seems like a ridiculous amount of spice, e.g. 1/2 teaspoon each of
coriander, cardamom, and ginger, and three freshly smashed peppercorns. Add your butter (a
walnut-sized blob).
Cook over medium heat, stirring all the while with a wooden spoon. It should seethe nicely in
no time, and thicken faster than it should, considering anything exotic should take several
hours. Consider it done when it parts to your spoon, falling back before you can say a twosyllable word. It will be satiny and pourable but not runny.
Pour into an oiled tray or dish to a depth that is as thick as you have patience for, because it
needs to dry. Put aside till it sets firm enough to do what you will with it, which may be two
days later, when it is rubbery enough to come away in one piece when lifted with a knife, but
still pliable enough to be rolled up without cracking.
To make these medlar comfits:
Cut into strips and roll up or cut into shapes (squares or diamonds are easiest). Put them on
waxed paper in a cardboard box. Leave for several weeks at least, not only for the
consistency to be firmer and chewier, but for the spices and honey to properly mellow.
These comfits are spectacularly good eaten with an accompaniment of walnuts. Serve also
with cheese, wine, and with coffee or hot chocolate.

8 lb / 3,600 grams Medlars
3 lb / 1,350 grams sugar
Pectin enzyme
Water up to 1 gallon
1/2 pint strong black tea
Campden tablet
Yeast nutrient
Wine yeast
Place the ripe fruit in a fermentation bucket and pour over the boiling water. Add 1 lb. of sugar
and an equal quantity of cold water. Add the campden tablet, pectin enzyme and yeast
nutrient and wine yeast. Cover and leave for three days in a warm place, stirring daily. Strain
through a fine sieve and add the rest of the sugar and put into a demijohn and fit an airlock to
seal the jar.
Store in a warm place and allow the fermentation to work. When fermentation has ceased,
rack the wine into a clean jar and place in a cooler environment and leave. When the wine is
clear and stable siphon into bottles.


  1. Thank you for collecting all these Medlar recipes together. One can find some but not others on various sites. This is really helpful.
    I have picked my first little crop of Medlars from my Dutch Medlar tree, and am looking forward to their bletting!

    1. I see its almost coming up to Medlar picking time again, how did you go with recipes last year? Any standouts?

  2. Well, I've just found this by accident looking for something else - and isn't it a wonder?
    Love you two and wish I lived nearer - oh that's right, I did live nearer and then I came here, far away down south.
    Anyway I think of you often . . .
    Lots and lots of love

  3. Hello Folks, where can I buy Medlar trees, please advise.



We can harvest a wide range of fruits and nuts locally each season.

Local fruit and/or nut gardeners are invited to make additions or suggest modifications to the following work-in-progress compiled by Lizzie Connor.


Across the mountains: loquat, mulberry, rhubarb, strawberry and (in late spring) raspberry

Best in the lower mountains: avocado, jaboticaba, lemonade


Across the mountains: apricot, blueberry, boysenberry, cherry, currant (red, black, white), gooseberry, kumquat, loganberry, loquat, mulberry,nectarine, peach, plum, raspberry, rhubarb, strawberry and (in late summer) almond, apple, fig, hazelnut, passionfruit, pear (incl. nashi), pomegranate, youngberry

Best in lower mountains:lemon (Eureka), lemonade, lime, mandarin, orange, persimmon (non-astringent) and (in late summer) avocado, babaco, macadamia, rockmelon, wampee, watermelon

Best in upper mountains: jostaberry, lemon (Meyer), persimmon (astringent)


Across the mountains: almond, apple, chestnut, feijoa, fig, grape, hazel, kiwi fruit, kumquat, medlar, olive, passionfruit, pear (incl. nashi), plum, quince, raspberry (some), rhubarb, strawberry, strawberry guava, walnut

Best in lower mountains: avocado, babaco, cherimoya, grapefruit, lemon (Eureka), macademia, monstera deliciosa, orange, pine nut, pistachio, rockmelon, tamarillo, walnut, watermelon, white sapote

Best in upper mountains: lemon (Meyer), mandarin (Satsuma)


Across the mountains: apple, hazelnut, kiwi fruit, kumquat, pear (incl. nashi)

Best in lower mountains: grapefruit, lemon (Eureka), orange, tangelo

Best in upper mountains: avocado (Bacon), lemon (Meyer)