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Written by John James, posted on Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Medlar tree in the grounds of the Liddel buildingYou may have noticed that as a by-product of the hot dry summer, many trees are bearing huge crops of fruit (whether this is a sign of a hard winter is open to debate), and one in particular was our specimen of Medlar (Mespilus germanica) which grows at our accommodation site the Liddell Building on the Iffley Road.

The Medlar makes a relatively small garden tree, rarely growing to more than eight metres in height, and only living for 30 to 50 years.

It prefers an open, sunny, freely drained site and slightly acidic soils. The roughly hairy leaves may have good red autumn colour and the white apple tree like flowers appear in late spring

The French call the Medlar tree, cul de chien (dog’s arse), Shakespeare and Chaucer called the fruits “open-arse”, and in a poem, DH Lawrence called Medlars "autumnal excrementa". All of which gives the impression that the fruit are not pleasant to look at, however, the fruit have a rustic beauty of their own and a tree with a heavy crop of fruit is an impressive site.

Medlar jelly recipeMedlars are fruit trees that have been cultivated since Roman times or even earlier and are native to Iran, southwest Asia, and southeast Europe in particular turkey and the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria.

The fruit was popular in Roman and medieval times but had grown out of favour by the 17th and 18th centuries due to the introduction of other, more appealing fruits.

The fruit starts off very hard and acidic and cannot be eaten until it has ‘bletted’ (from the French blettir, to make soft),or softened 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 changes 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 started to rot.

Once softened the fruit can be eaten raw as a dessert fruit, made into jelly or into Medlar ‘cheese’ which is like a lemon curd.

We picked three buckets of the fruit in early October and took them to the kitchen and gave them to our Executive Head Chef, Chris Simms.

After allowing the fruit to blet, the kitchen staff made jelly from the fruit following the recipe shown on the right.

The jelly is said to go well with game, roast meats, pates and terrines as well as soft cheeses.

Stages of the process are illustrated below.