If you’ve never heard of a medlar, you certainly aren’t alone! The medlar is not new but a rather ancient fruit cultivated since before Roman times and enjoyed throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance period in Europe. This unusual fruit is enjoying a comeback, as it provides delicious wintertime sweetness and can be used in a variety of tasty dishes. Here you’ll discover exactly how to use medlar fruit for yourself.
What You'll Learn Today
What Does Medlar Fruit Taste Like?
Everyone who samples a medlar fruit has their own idea about what it tastes like. Some say it is like a cross between a plum and an apple, others think it’s like toffee apples, while a few suggest over-ripe dates.
Certainly, the flavor is sugary and complex, which in part is because you don’t eat a medlar until it has partially rotted. Yes, you did read that right!
If you picked a medlar straight off the tree, you’d find it hard, bitter, and quite unpleasant due to the high amount of tannins.
A little like Persimmons, the medlar needs to ferment in its skin for a while to turn it into a soft, sweet pleasure to eat.
This process of controlled rotting, which turns something that is frankly pretty inedible into a syrupy delight, is known as “bletting”.
You need to “blet” the fruits by storing them for a few weeks until you see them turn a deep russet brown. You may also notice sweet, sticky juices leaking from the tops. The skin will become a little more wrinkled and they will be soft and squishy to the touch.
Can You Eat The Fruit From A Medlar Tree?
Yes, medlar fruits are edible, despite not being on the list of fruits with GRAS status (Generally Recognized As Safe).
This is due to their seeds, which contain prussic acid, also commonly known as cyanide. Keep in mind that other much better-known fruits also have seeds, stones, or pits that also contain this, including plums and apples.
Cyanide is toxic, but you’re not meant to eat the seeds of a medlar, so it shouldn’t cause you any real issues. There are also medlar varieties that are seedless.
Closely related to pears, quinces, roses, and hawthorn, the medlar’s fruits are a rounded shape with a flat top that has five leaflets protruding from around the edge. This is called a calyx.
When on the tree, the fruits start off a green color and turn an orange or reddy brown in the late autumn.
Early winter frosts, rather than being detrimental to the fruit, actually help to ripen them, as it initiates the sugar buildup.
Once bletted, you can eat the fruits raw, remembering to discard the seeds. Do this by squeezing the pulp out through the top of the fruit’s skin, or by cutting it in half and scooping out the edible pulp. Discard the seeds and skin.
How Do You Eat Medlar Fruit?
As we’ve already discovered, you can eat medlar fruit raw once it has been bletted, providing you don’t consume the seeds.
Other ways of eating medlars are to turn them into medlar jam, jelly, or something called Medlar Cheese, which is kind of like jam but with egg yolks added rather like Lemon Curd. Medlars are good for this due to their naturally high pectin level.
When turning into jam or cheese, the whole fruit is placed into a pan and cooked in water, then mashed down to form a pulp which is then strained. For jelly, which is clearer, the fruit is not mashed up, but the juice is strained off to make the jelly. You can read more about how to make jams and jellies here.
Many people like to add medlar fruit to their apple pies as it gives them an extra caramel quality. They are also lovely when baked, then pureed, and used as a topping for ice cream, yogurt, or panna cotta.
Medlar wine is another traditional way of using up the fruits.
In this video, you can see a simple way to prepare and eat your medlar fruits:
Medlar Tart Recipe
Recipe by Lorraine Elliott from Not Quite Nigella
Prep time: 35 minutes (not including cooling time)
Cooking time: 35 minutes
- 14 ounces of bletted medlars
- ½ cup of water
- 5 ½ tablespoons superfine sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla paste or vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- Finely grated zest of ½ a lemon
- 2 large eggs yolks and whites, cleanly separated into two different bowls
- 2 packs of shortcrust pastry
- Extra 1 teaspoon of vanilla paste or extract
- Maple syrup or honey for serving
- Touch of salt (optional)
Medlars are not usually ripe enough to eat when first picked from the tree. They require bletting, which makes them soft and squishy. To do this, you can place the medlars in a box or a brown paper bag for a couple of weeks. Keep sealed to prevent fruit flies and place somewhere cool.
Check the medlars every few days to see if they are ready. You will be able to tell not only because they will no longer be hard, but because they change to a darker color, and often juice leaks out from the top.
- Peel the medlars and remove the seeds.
- Place the medlar mush into a pot with ½ a cup of water and just 5 tablespoons of sugar, keeping the remaining ½ tablespoon in reserve for later.
- Add the spices and the lemon zest and place on high heat until the water begins to boil, then turn down to a very gentle simmer and cook for around eight to ten minutes. Give an occasional stir to prevent sticking to the pan.
- Allow the mixture to cool for around half an hour before adding the yolks from the separated eggs. If you add the yolks while the mixture is still hot, they will just scramble, so be patient.
- While waiting for the mixture to cool, roll out the pastry to fit into your one large or four small pie tins. Grease and line each of the tins, cover, and place them in the refrigerator for half an hour.
- Next, turn on the oven to 482°F, then add the yolks to your medlar mixture and cook on low heat for about two to three minutes until it is thick and creamy.
- Take your tins of pastry from the refrigerator after the 30 minutes have passed and place some baking parchment onto each and fill with ceramic cooking beans or uncooked rice to hold down the pastry while it cooks.
Bake for 15 minutes before taking them out of the oven and removing whatever you used to weigh them down. Be careful not to get burned!
- Spoon the medlar mixture into each pie and bake for a further 15 minutes. Tip – To prevent the pastry from becoming too dark, you can put a double layer of aluminum foil around the outside of the tin which will help protect it.
- Carefully remove the tarts from the oven and turn up the heat to 482°F.
- In a very clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until they just start to firm up, then gradually add the ½ cup of sugar and the extra vanilla. Continue to whisk until it forms peaks.
- Spoon the meringue on top of the tarts and bake for 5 minutes.
- These are best served straight from the oven with a little maple syrup or honey drizzled over the top.
What Is Medlar Fruit Good For?
It isn’t only the fruit of medlars that can be turned into something useful, the wood of the tree and even the leaves have some uses too!
- Health – Medlar fruit isn’t only tasty, it’s also good for you. It has been used to treat all kinds of stomach and digestive issues, including bloating, diarrhea, intestinal infection, menstrual problems, inflammation, and even internal bleeding. These ancient fruits are full of antioxidants which are beneficial in protecting us from all kinds of illnesses.
- Wood – The wood from a medlar tree is ideal for woodturning. It has a beautiful color, a fine grain, and is very hard and durable. It can be used for making all kinds of objects, both decorative and practical, from bowls and vases to walking sticks, chairs, and tools.
- Animal Feed – Sheep and pigs are said to like eating medlar leaves, and the fruits are good for wildlife food in winter. They can also be fed to pigs and rabbits.
- Erosion Control – In areas where erosion is a problem, growing a hedge containing medlar bushes can help, as they form relatively deep roots.
- Ornamental Landscaping – Due to their large leaves and attractive form, medlar trees are good for landscaping. Because they are hardy and tolerant of a variety of weather and soil conditions, you can usually find a type to suit your yard.
Medlars also come in various sizes, so can be grown into taller trees, small trees, and even shrubs or container plants.
Medlars make a tasty and unusual wintertime treat. Eat them raw, baked in a pie, as jam, jelly, or cheese. Or enjoy them turned into a sweet dessert wine.
Whatever you choose to do with your medlars, they are sure to bring some sweetness to the festive season.
To learn more about growing your own medlars, see our other articles on the topic.