Local farmer Mat Feakins (former Mayor of Monmouth and presently chairman of Monmouthshire County Council) has taken a step back in time to plant one of the countries largest commercial orchards of Medlars a Medieval fruit with a rather rude name.
Medlars were incredibly important and highly prized in the British diet right up to Elizabethan times as they were the last sweet fruit going into winter before sugar became widely available.
A close relative of the Rose, Crab apple and quince the Medlar tree has a fruit that resembles a persimmon, picked in October or November, usually after the first frosts of the Autumn.
The fruit can’t be eaten straight away, it’s too full of acids and tannins making it unpleasantly astringent, it must go through a process known as bletting, a word derived from the French “poire blette”, meaning overripe pear.
The fruit is harvested and stored somewhere cool for several weeks allowing the bletting process to get underway.
Essentially the fruit starts to rot, replacing acids and tannins with sugar, only then making the fruit edible. Once bletted, medlar fruit smell like ripe apples with a deep honey sweetness, the texture is like a grainy apple sauce and tastes somewhere between overripe dates, custard, and caramel.
Shakespeare was a fan of the fruit, often referring to them in his work, in “As you like it”,
Rosalind says: I’ll graff it with you, and then I shall graff it with a medlar: then it will be the earliest fruit i’ the country; for you’ll be rotten ere you be half ripe, and that’s the right virtue of the medlar
in Romeo & Juliet with Mercutio describing Romeo pining for Rosaline:
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!
What… yes, sorry, the fruit has a somewhat vulgar name to boot in old English they were called “openaers”, which is written these days as Shakespeare did above (no letters please), in French they are called cul de chien (dogs ass) “cu d’singe” (monkey’s bottom), “cu d’ane” (donkey’s bottom). There is a running theme which crosses the language divide.
Disregarding the humour or history – what to do with them?
Mat Feakins says: ”Traditionally the fruit has mostly been turned into cheeses or jellies – some of our fruit will follow those paths but we are growing on a commercial basis for an alcoholic drink.
”Its important to keep these stories alive and to keep our historic traditions going.
”More people are sourcing locally grown and unique products.
”Our farm is on the edge of Abergavenny, the food capital of Wales so we couldn’t have a better location to act as a springboard.
”We have also planted half the farm with Heritage cider apples on standard stocks, much like you find in Normandy.
”It’s been a real family and friends’ effort to get the planting done on time.
”It’s no longer adequate to just talk about increasing biodiversity we must act, and this is how we can help. Our orchards should last for 150 years and create some of the most diverse habitats that we know. ‘It’s important for us all to do what we can with whatever we have.”