I HADN’T been the first to spot the tree. Most of the fruit on the lower branches, right besides a footpath, had been stripped of fruit. But higher up there were still some I might get. I needed a long stick but there was an empty lager can discarded in the leaf litter. I took aim. Bull’s Eye! Two of them came tumbling down.
I’d noticed the medlar tree earlier in the year while foraging in a Sheffield park. Tiny brown fruit were on the branches but it was much too soon to pick them. They only ripen around November time. No wonder this was a medieval favourite in the days when fresh fruit all year round was impossibility.
Chaucer mentions them, and Shakespeare, not always kindly, and D H Lawrence, who had a thing about fundaments, wrote of “wineskins of brown morbidity, autumnal excrementa … an exquisite odour of leave taking”.
But the medlar has long fallen out of favour. In part, it’s its looks. It has the appearance of a greeny brown crab apple split open at the bottom into five crinkly segments. It resembles for all the world what leads the French to call them cul de chien, dog’s arse. But don’t let that put you off.
The medlar is only edible when it is ripe, that is beginning to rot or blet, so I made a mental note to come back in late autumn. It was on the last day of November that I went in search of the tree.
One or two of the medlars had already bletted. I squeezed one gently onto my tongue. The nearest thing it smells and tastes like is apple. A very soft, squidgy apple. And the texture is somewhere between a slightly fibrous pear and a ripe fig, although without the latter’s graininess. And it was sweet. I can honestly say it was the best I’ve eaten because it was the first I’ve eaten. I also got a mouthful of pips. There are five. Enthusiasts declare that medlars are a fruit you either love or hate. I quite like them.
I’ve only got eight or nine and have already eaten a couple. The rest will go into the cellar, in the dark, to ripen. You can make fruit cheese, jam or jelly with them although I haven’t got enough so they will be an occasional treat. This has been my most exotic forage of the year. I’m waiting for my cellar to be full of that exquisite odour.