Medlar trees have up to now been a mythical specimen to me as a gardener. I'd heard the rumours, seen a few pictures of their 'ugly' fruit but then moved back to the safety of more familiar fruit trees. However, this year I finally acquired a wonderful Medlar tree. Not only are they unique in their appearance but they are probably the only Winter fruiting tree. This guide will show you why you need one in your garden followed by how to make the wonderful Medlar jelly!

It’s a real surprise that the mighty Medlar tree isn’t more popular for small gardens. Not only is it a well behaved small fruit tree but it is self-fertile so produces fruits without the need of a pollinator tree. It’s also one of the only winter fruiting trees, so why aren’t they more popular?

This is probably down to the dark shadow that follows discussions about Medlars. About how they have to rot before you eat them. The fact they are referred to in France as ‘Dogs arses’.

I want to encourage you to ignore all that mere puff and look at the Medlar trees multiple benefits. It is one of the most trouble-free fruit trees for even the tiniest of gardens and requires little to no pruning. Got your attention? Great, let us delve deeper into this wonderful specimen.

The Medlar tree is misaligned and often overlooked so let’s shine a spotlight on this wonderful fruit tree

What is a Medlar tree?

Medlars (Mespilus germanica) is one of the oldest fruit trees and is part of the Rosacea family. It’s originally from South-West Asia and South-East Europe where it grows natively. It’s unusual as its fruits ripen (more on that later on) during winter so provides fruit during one of the scarcest fruit seasons. This is why the tree was so popular in Roman times as a way to extend the fruiting season when Apples & Pears had long been harvested.

A multi-stem gorgeous Medlar tree ideal for a small garden

It has contorted branches, ideally grown as a multi-stem specimen. It has many spectacular features, especially for a small city garden. Its elliptical leaves are a glossy green colour throughout the Spring and Summer. They then turn a bright orange through the yellow tones in the Autumn before falling. It’s a really well-behaved tree that can add a real wow factor to a small garden. Have a look at how I’ve used them in a show garden here for the BBC.

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What do Medlars Taste of?

My Auntie Joan always said ‘taste is subjective my dear’ and nothing is truer than with describing a Medlar’s tasting notes! There’s plenty of descriptions online from ‘pureed rotten apple’ to ‘aromatic butter’. Don’t let these put you off. In my experience of eating fresh (after bletting) Medlars, they taste of a Spicy floral apple puree. Very delicate and unusual. Most people shake there heads as they have heard of the bletting or rotting process required before you can eat them so lets put that myth to bed.

Medlars are slightly smaller than a golf ball in size with a distinctive Rosehip look about them

What is bletting of Medlars?

There’s a lot of misinformation about allowing Medlars to rot before you can eat them. Bletting is not rotting. To rot is to spoil, decay and become digested by bacteria. Bletting is a ripening process that softens the fruit, completely different. So next time you hear someone talk about rotten Medlars get your shaky fingers out!

The Medlar fruit is incredibly firm when it is first harvested in December. Like small bullets of hard fruit. Great to collect in a bucket without bruising. Their firmness is partly where the myth that they need to rot comes in.

This is a fully ripe & bletted medlar when cut open

Bletting is the process of letting fruits break down their internal fruit structures and release liquid and their sugars. If you’ve ever tried to eat an unripe Pear you will know that all fruit needs a period of softening to get them at their best.

Unripe Medlar. See the brown spots where it is starting to blet? You need to wait until the entire fruit reaches this stage

People often talk about rotting due to the transformation that these fruits go through. I must admit they do turn from their unusual Rosehip shape into something a little less appealing. This is as they turn a dark brown and soften, often leaking out clear sugar along the way. If you can put this ugly duckling reverse transformation to one side the Medlar is a delicious delicacy.

Making Medlar Jelly

Making Medlar jelly could not be easier. Especially if you use jam sugar that has added pectin (this helps the jam set) or you add an apple into the jam to help increase these pectin levels. If you’ve been following my gardening blog you’ll know I love making jam with gluts of fruits such as Damsons.

With a Medlar tree, you’re probably not going to be overrun with fruits. Even with an established Medlar tree, you don’t get a huge amount of fruit from them in my experience. There’s plenty of recipes online for Medlar jelly, cheese and other Medlar delicacies. However, you’re probably not likely to get more than 500g of a young small tree. So I’m going to give you a recipe to make one jar, simply scale it up the more Medlars you have!

I like to give my jams ridiculous names
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Ingredients for Medlar Jelly:

The ingredients below will make one jar of Medlar jelly. Scale it up depending on how much fruit you have ie 600g of Medlars double the sugar and liquid.

  • 300g Medlars (That have been bletted so are soft and squishy) + a few unripe ones to help with the Pectin levels
  • 300g Sugar (jam sugar is best or if not caster sugar plus the apple below)
  • 1 Small baking apple if not using jam sugar
  • 1 Lime cut into quarters (less in your face compared to lemons which I find overpower the Medlar)
  • 500ml water

Method of Making Medlar Jelly

1.Wash and then cut Medlars in half place in a large pan.

2. Cut the lime into 4 and add to the pan

Add your Medlars and fruit to a large pan

3. Add 1 small baking apple if you’re planning on using normal caster sugar, leave the skin on and slice into quarters.

4. Add the water to the pan and bring to a simmer.

5. Cover the pan and leave to simmer for an hour. Don’t let it boil dry, keep checking on it. I like to keep it just and so bubbling by turning the heat down. I stir it delicately once or twice to ensure the Medlars are releasing their goodness! If you mash them too hard the jelly will be cloudy, it won’t affect its taste just appearance.

6. After an hour take the pan off the heat and then pass the liquid through a jelly bag or piece of clean material to catch all the debris whilst you transfer it to another clean pan. You just want the golden coloured liquid.

Pass the boiled mixture through a jelly bag to extract the golden liquid – give it a quick squash to get all the juice out.
The liquid will be golden and rather unassuming!

7. Bring the liquid to the boil for 4 minutes.

8. Add the sugar to the liquid and wait for it to return to the boil.

Add the sugar to the boiling Medlar liquid and bring back to the boil

9. You’re now wanting this liquid to reach a setting point. I use a jam thermometer but you can use the cold plate test (Place a small blob on a cold plate out the fridge – if it forms a skin its ready if not carry on boiling for another 2 mins.

10. You want t to boil it for around 6 mins for a 1 jar quantity of up to 10-15mins for multiple jars.

A raging boil will help get you to the setting point – keep your eyes out and use a jam thermometer to stop it turning into Medlar caramel!

11. Once ready decant into a clean sterilised jam jar, allow to cool then place the lid on.

You now have the most incredible dinner party jelly to impress your friends with!

Medlars as a delicacy

Medlars are also prized as a bit of a delicacy probably down to their rarity and odd appearance. There more to Medlars than simply blitzing them into jelly. They are actually delicious on their own eaten with a spoon. I like to cut them in half and serve them as a mini dessert after dinner.

They are delicious with cheese or roasted in the oven with Chicken or Duck. So why not go nuts and see what dishes you can give a taste of the unusual to? Are you a Medlar fanatic? Why not let me know by leaving a comment below or getting in touch with Garden Ninja on Social media Tweet, Facebook or Instagram me. 

You can also follow me on Youtube where I’ve got plenty of garden guide vlogs to help you make your garden awesome! Happy Gardening.

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