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Fruit and Vegetables

By: Alex Bray

Medlars are a small brown-skinned fruit from a bush of the rose family. They are naturally very hard and sour, and need to be ripened to the point where they are somewhat decayed, or 'bletted', before they can be eaten or used in cooking. Known as a culinary fruit at least since the 15th Century 'The Romaunt of the Rose'.

The brown, pulpy, flesh and often split skin of the medlar got them the nickname 'open-arse', which serves to provide many a wildly hilarious pun in Elizabethan and Jacobean comedy. There is this passage in 'Romeo and Juliet', unsurprisingly omitted in many editions;
Now will he sit under a medlar tree,
And wish his mistress were that kind of fruit
As maids call medlars, when they laugh alone.
O Romeo, that she were, O that she were
An open-arse and thou a pop'rin pear!

Original Receipt in 'The Encyclopedia of Cookery' by Theodore Garrett (Garrett 1891);

Medlars for Dessert. To serve these artistically, first of all the hollow in the dessert-dish must be filled up, which can easily be done with fancy paper, made into a roll or into a bun shape (called a tampion), or paste-board may be employed cut to the size of the dish, having a support in the centre to keep it well raised. Cover with leaves or moss, trim off all the rough parts of the Medlars, and arrange them on the dish in the form of a pyramid or any other design, putting leaves or moss between them.

A Tarte of Medlars
Image: Alex Bray

The following receipt for a 'Tarte of Medlars' occurs, more-or-less word-for-word, in several early modern texts. Our correspondent Alex Bray says of his version "Frankly, it was horrid!! Far too much white wine overpowered the delicious medlars."

Original Receipt in 'The Good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchin' 1594 by Thomas Dawson, (Huswife 1594)

To make a tarte of Medlers
TAke Medlers that be rotten, & straine them then set them on a chafingdish of coales, and beate it in two yolkes of Egges, and let it boil til it be somewhat thick: then season it with synamon, Ginger and Sugar, and lay it in paste.

Medlar Cheese
Medlar Jelly

Medlars from 'A Book of Fruits and Flowers', 1653

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