|The humble medlar, a mystifying bullet of a fruit
It turns out that, while related to the apple, they are actually part of the rose family, native to Persia and cultivated by the Romans, whence they spread all over Europe. They fruit late and are hardy enough to grow in all manner of conditions, even Scandinavia.
But they’re pretty tough even when ripe, hence the idea of the bletting—which basically means leaving them to soften. The Victorians used to sit them in damp sawdust or bran to blet, bringing them to the table in their sawdust. But how do you know when a medlar is bletted? (Sounds like a question for Rambling Syd Rumpo.)
|Note the darkened, wrinkled skin of the first fruit I tried
From Alan Davidson’s The Oxford Companion to Food I learn that bletting is an “internal fermentation” that “gives the fruit an acid, aromatic taste that appeals to some and not to others”. D. H. Lawrence referred to them as “wineskins of brown morbidity, autumnal excrement”, giving off an “exquisite odour of leave-taking”. Probably wouldn’t work on the poster.
So it seems that the soft brown “off” flesh I discarded may have been precisely the delicacy I was looking out for. The Victorians used to scoop this out and mix it with sugar and cream for a dessert.
I originally decided to include this post simply out of curiosity, even though it didn’t really have anything to do with booze. But that reference to “fermentation” makes me realise that, when correctly bletted, there is something boozy going on. Those crafty Victorians, getting blatted on bletted fruit.
Four days later I noticed that the remaining medlars were beginning to soften to the touch, though without the exterior darkening. I sliced one in half and was surprised to see that the flesh was brown again, though this time without the pitting of the last fruit I tried. All one’s senses and experience say, “Do not eat this—it is putrefying,” but I decided to give it a go all the same.
|The flesh of what I guess is a properly bletted medlar, now with the consistence of chestnut purée
Subsequent investigation showed that they eventually pass over and become less pleasant, like that first one I tried. But at their peak they taste and feel remarkably like luscious, slow barked apple, with strong hints of almond.
Is there a place for the medlar in mixology? I doubt it. It doesn’t produce juice, exactly, though perhaps the molecular crowd could try fashioning some of the paste-like pulp into a quenelle and using it as a garnish or allowing it to sink to the bottom of the glass like a shipwrecked cargo of ambergris or frankincense. Actually its most useful characteristic is probably that incredibly dry mouthfeel of the under-ripe ones: when we were last at 69 Colebrooke Row Tony was extracting a tannin essence from grapeseeds solely so that he could use it to make a drier-than-dry Martini. I think a medlar could give it a run for its money.