Grow Your Own Medlars
How to Grow a Medlar Tree
It's so nice to grow your own medlars. These old-fashioned fruits were popular in Victorian times but have since fallen from favour, so growing them yourself is possibly the only way to get your hands on these unusual fruits!
The medlar is a small, pretty tree with a rather gnarled, 'Japanese' habit when mature. It's deciduous, has long, mid-green oval leaves and beautiful, creamy white flowers in spring.
The fruits are small, golden globes that are ready along with the first frosts of winter. Gather them when they become soft in November, the last fruit harvest of the year.
These ornamental trees are easy to grow , hardy and tolerant as well as decorative and fruitful - who wouldn't like one in their garden? Our very own medlar tree at Les Trois Chenes, our bed and breakfast in Limousin, S W France, has blessed us with a wonderful harvest every year for the last decade.
Where Can You Grow Medlars?
From Florida to Maine
Medlars ripen best in Mediterranean climates and can withstand temperatures as low as -25Â° so chances are that you could grow medlars where you are. The grow in Britain well but may not ripen fully, however in Limousin, S W France they ripen beautifully on the tree.
My Google Maps - Help me to make a medlar map!
I know that medlars grow in England and France, and I've read that they grow in Maine and Florida. Where else do they grow? Why not help me to make a Medlar Map by leaving a message in the comments box at the end of this lens telling me where you grow medlars, or have seen them grow?
The Royal Horticultural Society book of Hawthorns and Medlars - The final word!
What Are Medlars?
Medlars are trees bearing medlar fruit
The Medlar Tree
There are two species of medlar, The Common Medlar, is a small tree,( latin name: Mespilus germanica and Stern's Medlar (Mespilus canescens) discovered in North America in 1990. They belong to the Rosaceae (rose) family, along with their relative, the Common Hawthorn, (Crataegus monogyna).
The Medlar Fruit
The medlar fruit is a pome, (the best-known example of a pome is the apple - I wonder if this is why an apple is called a pomme?). They are small, round, light brown when mature turning a deeper, chocolatey brown in November. They are pretty little fruits with five large, star-shaped calyx at the end.
You harvest your medlars after the frosts as late as possible in November when they are soft and 'bletted'. Please do note that soft and bletted does not mean 'rotten'. The fruit may look rotten if you're thinking of a nice ripe, crunchy red apple or a just-softened peach, but ripe medlars are brown and soft, but not rotten.
Image: My medlar tree at Les Trois Chenes. It's in the chicken run (not that the chickens stay in there with the medlar tree!
What is a Medlar? - Find out more about medlar trees and fruit
- What is a Medlar?
This is the answer!
Where Do Medlars Come From?
The history of the medlar
The medlar originally came from Asia Minor, the Caucasus and Northern Iran and they have a long and rich history. We know that it was grown in Greece by 700 BC and came to Rome about 200 BC; medlars feature in the mosaics at Pompeii. Medlars were also very popular in the Middle Ages and were the mainstay of medieval French and English gardens. They retained their popularity in England right up to Victorian times but them seem to have fallen from favour. This seems to be a bit of a shame.
The picture on the right is of a medlar tree in the Roman gardens of Casinomagus. This is the site of Roman baths, a village and temples near the town of Chassenon in the Poitou-Charente, South West France. It is of European importance as much of the structure of the buildings remain and it is just ten minutes from Les Trois Chenes.
The gardens are a recent addition to the site and they illustrate the range and use of the plants that the Romans would have used.
The fruit of the common medlar, has been used as a metaphor for old age, and especially premature age
What do Medlars Taste Like?
Like slightly burnt apple puree
They look and feel like apple puree too! The fruits contain rather large pips or seeds and, when the fruit is ripe in early winter, the inside is soft and pulpy. It is a rich brownish colour like apple puree that's been exposed to the air. It has a slight burnt taste.
Well - that's the nearest that I can get to explaining what a medlar tastes like. Try one and see for yourself.
Which is the best medlar variety?
The Large Dutch Larger fruits but coarser texture and poor flavour. Vigorous and needs room.
The Nottingham More compact, smaller fruit prone to cracking open and the worst cropping. (Not a lot going for this then?).
The Iranian Medlar Good quality small fruit and perhaps the best if you want to eat it fresh. The fruit has a distinct, slightly conical shape, a closed eye, and so is less likely to crack and rot than some other varieties. It ripens early
Bredase Reus Medlar Origin: Netherlands. Bredase Reus is self-fertile and crops well alone, but, like many things in life - it does better with playmates - and has more fun?
Other cultivars include, Macrocarpa, Royal, Taylor and Westerveld. The Bredase Reus, Macrocarpa, Royal and Westerveld all have similar, roundish medium sized fruit that ripen late. The fruit inside is drier than the Iranian and has a plainer sweet flavour without the subtleties of the Iranian medlar.
So - the Iranian it is then?
Can I Train A Medlar Tree?
According to Hamid Habibi (see links below) Medlars can easily be trained into restricted forms such as cordons - but in this form, while they remain vigorous, they may produce less fruit than apples or pears. Train cordons on Quince A or hawthorn rootstock as oblique cordons about 2 m high.
It should also be possible to train medlars as fans or espaliers.
How To Pick Medlars
Your medlars will ripen around November and are ready to eat when brown and squidgy, but I find that if I leave them on the tree until ripe, many have already dropped and the chickens have eaten them! It's better to pick the medlar just before they ripen, while still firm, this way they are easier to pick and you'll loose fewer fruits. Ripen them up in the house at room temperature.
Medlars and Quinces
What to Do With a Medlar
Well, you can eat them fresh, either straight from the tree or after you've bletted them in a box. They are great with cheese and make a pretty picture when decorating the cheese board.
You can make them into medlar cheese, (medlar jam), or medlar jelly. You can also make a lovely tart using a pumpkin pie recipe and replacing the pumpkin pulp with medlar pulp and you can make medlar cheesecake.
Try roast medlars with cinnamon and sugar. See below for some medlar recipes.
Do you have any good medlar recipes?
Let me know by leaving a message in the comments box at the end of this page!
Medlar Recipes - Medlar jam, medlar cheese and medlar jelly
You Can Freeze Medlars
Keep them to eat for the rest of the year
Pick the medlars when almost ripe and then ripen them in the house. You can then freeze them for use throughout the year. Once defrosted they lose little of their flavour or texture.
The calyx end of the fruit has led it to receive the rather crude name of "open-arses"! (Sorry about that!)
How to Plant a Fruit Tree - This is a great tree planting video
It takes a bit of time to watch this but it's because they give you ALL the information you need to plant a tree. Well worth investing five or ten minutes and carrying out their instructions to the letter. (I'm a landscape architect as well as an artist and so I'm used to telling people how to plant a tree or two!)
More Medlar Information - Keepers Nursery
Much of the information here comes from Hamid Habibi of Keepers Nursery - he and I seem to be the only two writing about medlars on the internet!
A Young Medlar Tree in Limousin
Great Growing Tips to Green Up Your Fingers - Get expert advice on choosing, planting and caring for fruit trees
Chequers is another forgotten fruit related to the medlar and hawthorn family. It is the fruit of the Chequer or wild service tree, Sorbus torminalis They are natives of Europe and the fruit is edible and apparently tastes like dates, although I have never even seen one, let alone tasted them. They are too astringent to eat until, like the medlar, they have been bletted.
In herbal medicine they were used to treat cholic.
Image: By Rosenzweig Courtesy Wikimedia Commons, GNU licence