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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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medlar Mespilus germanica, a small tree of the rose family and a cousin of the apple. It bears an apple-like fruit, but this is open at the bottom end, exposing the five seed boxes.

The medlar, native to Persia, was grown by the ancient Greeks, then by the Romans from the 2nd century bc. It was a useful addition to the then scanty range of late-ripening winter fruits, and it subsequently spread throughout Europe. It is hardy and flourishes even in Scandinavia.

Several varieties have been cultivated including a seedless one, but it is more common as a wild tree. The medlar can be grafted onto quince or pear stock, but does best on hawthorn stock, as Gerard (1633) noted:

The medlar-tree oftentimes grows in hedges among briars and brambles: being grafted on a white-thorn, it prospers and produces fruit three times as large as those which are not grafted at all, and almost the size of small apples. We have divers sorts of them in our orchard.