Medlar trees are usually grown for their ornamental value these days, even though the fruit were once highly prized. Medlar Nottingham is the only variety still available for commercial growing, thanks to its well sized fruit, disease resistance and regular harvests. This is a low, spreading tree with lovely twisting branches and thick, slightly downy foliage that begins life pale green, flushed with a hint of rosy pink and then darkens with age. The simple white flowers are carried on the tips of the branches and are often surrounded by a halo of leaves, like a white iris in a green eye. Medlar trees have excellent autumn colour, as the raised surfaces of the leaves glow with shades of pink, red and orange while the leaf veins hold their green pigment for a bit longer, creating an exotic tropical effect. The fruit are quite unique and were once considered to be among the finest of delicacies, reserved for those who could afford them. They are still very popular in Greece, Turkey and the Middle East. There is no getting around it, though - Shakespeare and Chaucer both likened their shape to a person's bottom. In the play Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio teases Romeo about his love for Juliet with an innuendo involving medlars and pears - we are sure that you can guess what he was getting at. However, it is modern squeamishness, not their appearance, that is the reason that these gorgeous fruit have fallen into obscurity. They have to be bletted before they are edible, which is a nice way of saying that they should be kept until are almost rotten and it is this which some people find off putting. A well over-ripe medlar, with its wrinkled brown skin and mushy insides, tastes like gourmet apple and pear sauce that somehow got inside a fruit - sweet, sharp and irresistable.
Harvesting and Storing your Medlars: Between mid-October and early November, the fruit should part easily from the branches and are ready to be picked and stored. It is a good idea to disinfect them before you store them: simply take a bowl of warm water and stir salt into it until no more will dissolve. Give each fruit a gentle wash. Dry them off well and store them in a cool, dry, dark place with their "eye" facing downwards. Try to prevent the fruit from touching each other - wrap them in newspaper if necessary. Leave them for about three weeks to blet - you know that they are ready when they become soft all over. The longer you leave them, the softer they become, until you can suck the flesh out through the eye, neatly leaving the inedible stones behind - this is medlar heaven. You can also leave them on the tree and pick each one when you see that its skin is wrinkled and turning brown, but this may be quite time consuming with a larger tree - the fruit may also fall off and get poached before you can get to them. If you are impatient to try one, freeze it and let it thaw two or three times - this should speed up the bletting process. If you live in London, Borough Market is one of the last places that still sells medlars in season - look for them from late October.
Nottingham Medlars will grow well in any well drained soil and will fruit best in full sun. They are hardy but the flowers can be damaged by strong, dry winds and we recommend choosing a sheltered location if you want to ensure a good harvest. We recommend pruning your tree diligently for its first four years - cut back every leading branch by about a third of its new growth from the previous summer, down to an outward facing bud. This will prevent the tree from becoming congested in later life and improve its vigour - unmanaged trees can be prone to growing inwards and rubbing their branches together, which allows disease to enter. A full grown medlar tree will grow to about 5 metres, 18 feet, bushes a little less. Our medlars are grafted on Quince A rootstocks.
If you are unsure about fruit tree sizes, please take a look at our Guide to Fruit Tree Sizing..