Bletting is a process certain fleshy fruits undergo when, beyond ripening, they have started to decay and ferment. There are some fruits that are either considered at their best after some bletting, such as Nashi pear, or that can only be eaten raw after bletting, such as medlars, persimmons, quince, and Service Tree fruit.


Ripe medlars, for example, are taken from the tree and spread on some absorptive material (like straw, sawdust, or bran) somewhere cool, and allowed to decay for several weeks. In Trees and Shrubs, botanist F. A. Bush wrote about medlars that "if the fruit is wanted it should be left on the tree until late October and stored until it appears in the first stages of decay; then it is ready for eating. More often the fruit is used for making jelly." Ideally, the fruit is harvested from the tree immediately following a hard frost, which jump starts the bletting process by breaking down cell walls and speeding decay.

Chemically speaking, bletting brings about an increase in sugars and a decrease in acids and tannins (tannins cause the unripe fruit to be puckery). In some cases bletting is simply a ripening process (the fruit is exposed to light frost for a few days after it is ripe), but in others there is a chemical process (water, alcohol or carbon dioxide treatments) used commercially to remove the astringency.

Once the process is complete, the flesh will have broken down enough that it can be spooned out of the skin. The taste of the sticky, mushy substance has been compared to sweet dates and dry applesauce, with a hint of cinnamon. In Notes on a Cellar-Book, the great English oenophile George Saintsbury called bletted medlars the "ideal fruit to accompany wine."


The English verb to blet was coined by John Lindley, in his Introduction to Botany (1848), based on a French word used in connection with overripe pears. "After the period of ripeness," he wrote, "most fleshy fruits undergo a new kind of alteration; their flesh either rots or blets."

In Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, he alluded to bletting when he wrote (IV. iii. 167) "They would haue married me to the rotten Medler." Thomas Dekker also draws a saucy comparison in his play The Honest Whore: "I scarce know her, for the beauty of her cheek hath, like the moon, suffered strange eclipses since I beheld it: women are like medlars- no sooner ripe but rotten." Elsewhere in literature, D. H. Lawrence dubbed medlars "wineskins of brown morbidity."

There is also an old saying, used in Don Quixote, that "time and straw make the medlars ripe," referring to the bletting process.

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