Medlar in Permaculture: A Dessert Tree in the Winter Desert
Medlar, Mespilus germanica, has its origins in Persia, modern-day Iran, where it has been cultivated for at least 3,000 years. The pom fruit eventually came west and found favor in Europe, applied to baking recipes and making a "medlar cheese." It's virtually unknown here in the United States except, as I have found, in permaculture circles. Last year I added the medlar to our core species list for all permaculture projects and planted several trees at sites around Orcas Island. This week I have been harvesting the fruit. Yes, it's December, nearly the low point of winter, and I am plucking medlar fruit from a dormant, leafless and barren orchard. It's a fascinating experience. This is all by design, of course. The fruit is commonly referred to as ugly, and even Chaucer and Shakespeare had a swing at it, drawing it poetically as something like an "open arse". I have my own opinion, and I find it beautiful in appearance and taste. Above all else I consider it a "winter gift" species from our wonderful and ingenious Creator. Let's talk eating: The fruit needs to be bletted first, or made soft. You can pluck them before the killing frosts and blett them off the tree in a cool dry spot, or leave them on the tree to blett. I do the latter - less work. Here's where the fruit loses its audience: its brown and mushy when bletted, and not attractive by conventional standards. Look past that and peel the skin, pull the stem, and pop it in your mouth. You'll encounter five seeds in the delicious mushy madness. Spit them out, perhaps save them. The taste is unique in a very good way: like a tree dessert, giving the impression of a fig, lemon, and apple custard. Seriously, it's good.