A tale of two medlars
Medlars - an old English fruit with a venerable heritage and a very limited present, and a firm favourite with Wild Side Customers either as Medlar syrup or a Hot Spicy Medlar Chutney.
Mid November is prime harvest time for the humble Medlar, but the challenge is to find the elusive trees to yield their unique appley, caramely taste. They are rock hard little bullets and completely unusable until they are bletted - that is going rotten and soft, so the window of opportunity for harvest is less than two weeks at the very end of the fruit season.
And therein lies a story. As a child my mother used to take me round to play with a boy who was to become my best friend and in his garden was a fine spreading Medlar tree - not that I appreciated its rarity value at the time. After all - doesn't everyone have a tree like this in their back garden?
The ancient Medlar tree
We used to clamber in its branches, find shade under its dense canopy of leaves and in season stand on each side and lob the squidgy fruit at each other over the tree.
As we were trying to source our supply this season I remembered my back garden antics in the late 1960's and got to wondering. My best friend's family moved away decades ago but a quick look at Google earth revealed the tree standing proud just as I remembered it. So I knocked on the door and explained my quest: Do you still have the Medlar tree in the back garden? Is it still fruiting? Do you use / can I have the fruit?
It turned out that the tree was indeed still in situ, but alas the three years since the Google Earth image was taken have not been kind to it. Sadly one side has died away and tree surgeons have been at work trying to save it. The truth is the that tree was reputedly mature when the house was built in the 1800's, so its is now possibly over 150 years old - and its sagging limbs are gradually giving up the ghost. But not all hope is lost - the centre has been opened up and new branches are growing. It may have lost its fine circular shape but hopefully it will live on for a few decades yet.
Like historic boats, you never really own them - you just hold them in trust for future generations.
The fruit on this ancient tree were small, like large marbles but it still offered about seven or eight kilos which was well worth collecting.
And so we move on to the second Medlar tree - this time in Cambridgeshire. It's a fine young specimen about 10 years old and in this case the orange Medlars are the size of golf balls, smothering the tree.
Medlars were popular till the puritanical Victorians came along. They are a kind of cross between a Crab Apple and a Rose Hip, absolutely unique but sadly offensive in their eyes. Their open end looks just like a dogs bottom and for this reason the trees were screened of to avoid upsetting the sensibilities of the ladies - and in many cases they were cut down. All this horticultural cleansing resulting in the scarcity we find today so I am on a one man crusade to promote the planting of new Medlar trees.
I will try and propagate some from seed and see how they go.
This second small tree delivered about 25 kilos and we left staggering with three huge bags filled to the brim. All this means lots of happy customers in 2014!