Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

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Medlars are small fruits of an apple relative (Mespilus germanica) native to central Asia, now rare but once commonly grown in Europe as a winter fruit. Like the quince, the medlar remains hard and astringent even when ripe, so it keeps well and even improves if left on the tree through early frosts. It was made into preserves, but more often it was “bletted” (a 19th-century coinage from the French blessé, “bruised”), or picked from the tree and kept in a cool, dry place for several weeks until the enzymes in its own cells digest it from within, and its flesh turns soft and brown. The astringency disappears, the malic acid is used up, and the aroma develops strong overtones of spice, baked apples, wine, and gentle decay, what D. H. Lawrence described as an “exquisite odour of leave-taking.”