When autumn ushers in vibrant hues of reds, golds, and browns along with crisp frosty mornings, medlars, with their unique and exquisite taste, become a sought-after delicacy. The medlar tree (Mespilus germanica) is renowned for its delicious, aromatic fruit that ripens late in the season, offering a delightful treat for those who savor its distinct flavor. Understanding the precise moment and proper techniques for harvesting medlar fruit is necessary to ensure optimal taste and texture. In this article, we delve into the nuances of when and how to pick medlar fruit, enabling you to fully enjoy this ancient treat.
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How Do You Know When Medlar Is Ripe?
The earliest you should start to think about harvesting the fruits of your medlar tree is late fall when the leaves are brown and begin to drop from the tree.
To get the fruits ready to harvest, they need to go through a couple of good frosts before they are seasoned sufficiently.
Harvesting the fruits typically begins in November, although the timing may vary from year to year and depending on the occurrence of those important initial frosts. In some cases, the first frost may not happen until mid-December, which coincides nicely with the desire for fresh fruit during that time of year.
If the medlar fruits are firm when picked, they require a storage and ripening process known as bletting to become edible. However, if you happen to pick the fruit when it is already soft, it should be suitable for immediate consumption.
To determine when your medlar fruit is ready to be picked, look for the following signs:
- Time of year – Late fall, often around November, depending on the specific variety and climate. It’s essential to be patient and wait until the appropriate season for harvesting.
- Size – Ripe medlar fruits are usually about 1.5 to 2 inches (4 to 5 centimeters) in diameter. If they still appear small or underdeveloped, leave them for longer.
- Color – As the fruit matures, the greenish hue of unripe medlars gradually transforms into a golden-yellow or darker brownish color, depending on the variety. The skin may also become more translucent looking.
- Firmness – Ripe medlar give slightly to pressure rather like a ripe avocado. Avoid picking fruits that feel very hard or unyielding, as they are likely not yet fully mature.
- Stalk condition – Ready to pick medlars will detach from the tree with very little effort, just a simple twist should do it. If it resists separation, the fruit may still need more time to mature.
- Bletting – Medlars are unique in that they require a process called “bletting” to reduce their astringency and enhance their flavor. This involves allowing the fruits to soften and partially decay after harvesting. So, even if the fruit appears ripe, it might still require additional bletting time for optimal taste.
In this handy video, you can see how to judge if your medlar fruit is ready to harvest:
What Does Medlar Fruit Look Like When It’s Ripe?
Medlar’s are not usually considered ripe when they are picked from the tree. They need to go through the process of bletting, allowing the fruits to soften to a point where the skin is almost black and their internal flesh turns sticky and sweet.
- Flesh texture – Cut open the fruit and check the texture, the flesh of a ripe medlar should be soft and creamy. If it is still firm or crunchy, the medlar is not yet fully bletted.
- Aroma – Once the medlars have finished bletting the astringency decreases, and the fruit develops a sweet, aromatic flavor with a slightly fermented aroma.
The time it takes medlar fruits to be ready to pick varies according to variety and growing conditions.
If you are unsure about the readiness of the medlars on your tree, you can try harvesting a few fruits at different stages to assess their texture. But appearance is your biggest clue, they should be golden to dark brown and not green, and the leaves on the tree must be in fall colors or have already dropped off.
How Do You Ripen Medlar Fruit?
Bletting is the process of allowing medlar fruit to fully ripen and soften, transforming its flavor and texture from hard and astringent to sweet and custard-like.
- Harvesting – Medlars are typically harvested when they are mature but still firm. Look for fruits that have reached their full size and have a golden-yellow or brownish color. Avoid picking fruits that are underdeveloped or unripe.
- Cleaning – Gently wash the medlars to remove any dirt or debris on the skin. Pat them dry with a clean towel.
- Storage – Place the medlars in a single layer in a cool, dark, and well-ventilated location. A cool basement or cellar works well for this purpose. Ensure that the fruits are not touching each other, as this allows air to circulate and helps prevent mold or rot from spreading.
- Temperature and humidity – Medlars require specific temperature and humidity conditions for bletting. Ideally, the storage area should be around 50-60°F (10-15°C) with a humidity level of 85-95%. These conditions facilitate the enzymatic changes necessary for successful bletting.
- Patience – Bletting medlars is a slow process that can take several weeks. It’s important to be patient and resist the temptation to check on the fruits every day. Opening the storage container or disturbing the medlars too often can disrupt the bletting process.
- Monitoring – Periodically inspect the medlars to assess their progress. You can gently touch the fruits to check their softness. Over time, they should become soft and yield to slight pressure. Additionally, the color of the fruit may darken and the skin becomes more translucent.
- Bletting duration – The exact bletting time varies depending on the variety and freshness of the medlars. On average, it can take around 2-4 weeks for the medlars to blet properly.
Some fruits may be ready sooner, while others may require a bit more time. It’s best to check a few medlars periodically to find the desired level of softness and flavor.
- Testing for readiness – To determine if the medlars are ready to eat, you can perform a taste test. Cut open a medlar and taste a small portion of the flesh. It should have a soft, custard-like texture with a sweet, aromatic flavor. If the taste is still astringent or the texture is not yet creamy, allow the medlars to continue bletting.
Can You Eat Medlar Fruit Raw?
Medlar fruit is not typically consumed raw straight from the tree due to its high tannin content, which gives it a strong, astringent taste and can cause an unpleasant mouthfeel.
When eaten raw, the fruit is often described as hard, sour, and unpalatable. This is why the bletting process is so essential if you are to enjoy creamy, delicious medlars.
It is possible to semi-blet your medlars by leaving them on the tree, but it is usually better to harvest them while they are mature but still firm, and then store them in a cool, dark place for several weeks. This allows the fruits to undergo enzymatic changes and reach the desired bletted state.
Once the medlars have sufficiently bletted, you can absolutely eat them raw, simply by cutting them open and scooping out the soft flesh, discarding the seeds and skins.
Bletted medlar fruit can be used in various culinary preparations, such as jams, jellies, desserts, and even savory dishes. They are a good accompaniment to pork.
Do You Have To Peel Medlars?
It is recommended to peel medlars before consuming them, especially if you are eating them raw or using them in recipes where the skin would affect the texture or taste. The skin of medlar fruit can be tough and may detract from the overall eating experience.
It can be a little tricky to peel fully bletted medlars as they are so soft, do so carefully, using a very sharp small paring knife. Don’t forget to wash them first!
Start by making a shallow cut around the equator of each fruit, being careful not to cut into the flesh. This cut helps loosen the skin.
Once you’ve made the cut, use your fingers to gently peel away the skin. The medlar should be soft and easy to separate from the skin.
After peeling, you can remove any remaining seeds or fibrous parts if desired. Medlar seeds are typically large and easy to spot.
Once the medlars are peeled and any unwanted parts are removed, you can use the soft, custard-like flesh in various recipes or enjoy it as is.
Knowing when to pick your medlar fruit requires patience and a keen eye for signs of ripeness. Late fall, when the leaves are brown and dropping from the tree, is the ideal time to start considering harvesting.
Ripe medlars are typically 1.5 to 2 inches in diameter, with a golden-yellow or brownish color and slightly yielding to pressure. The fruit should detach easily from the branch with a simple twist.
However, medlars are not usually consumed immediately after picking. They undergo a process called bletting, which involves allowing the fruits to soften and partially decay to reduce astringency and enhance flavor.
Bletting can take several weeks in a cool, dark, and well-ventilated location with specific temperature and humidity conditions. Once properly bletted, the medlars can be enjoyed raw, with their soft, custard-like flesh.
Peeling the medlars is recommended, as the skin can be tough. Carefully make a shallow cut and peel away the skin, then remove any seeds or unwanted parts.
Medlars can be used in various culinary preparations or enjoyed on their own. Remember to consume them promptly or preserve them after peeling due to their short shelf life.
With the right timing and techniques, you can fully savor the unique taste of medlar fruit during the autumn and winter season.