Medlar (Mespilus) is a genus of two species of flowering plants in the subfamily Maloideae of the family Rosaceae. One, Common Medlar Mespilus germanica, is a long-known native of southwest Asia and possibly also southeastern Europe, and the other, Stern's Medlar Mespilus canescens, was recently (1990) discovered in North America.
Medlars are deciduous large shrubs or small trees growing up to 8 m tall. The leaves are dark green and elliptic, six to fifteen centimetres long and three to four centimetres wide. The leaves turn a spectacular red in autumn before falling. The five-petalled white flowers are produced in late spring. The fruit is a pome, two to three centimetres in diameter, with wide-spreading persistent sepals giving a "hollow" appearance to the fruit; it is matte brown in M. germanica and glossy red in M. canescens.
Medlar fruit are very hard and acidic. They become edible after being softened ("bletted") by frost, or naturally in storage given sufficient time. Once softening begins, the skin rapidly takes a wrinkled texture and turns dark brown, and the inside reduces to a consistency and flavour reminiscent of apple sauce. They can then be eaten raw, often consumed with cheese as a dessert, although they are also used to make medlar jelly and wine. Another dish is "medlar cheese", which is similar to lemon curd, being made with the fruit pulp, eggs, and butter.
The medlar is native to Persia and has an ancient history of cultivation; it was grown by the ancient Greeks and Romans, beginning in the 2nd century BCE. The medlar was a very popular fruit during the Victorian era; however, it is now a rarely appreciated fruit, except in certain areas, such as the north of Iran.
Mousmoulia is the name of the tree in modern Greek and Mousmoulo the name of the fruit. Very appreciated especially in northern Greece in the area of Macedonia.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, medlars were also bawdily called "open-arses" because of the shape of the fruits, inspiring the presence of boisterously or humorously indecent puns in many Elizabethan and Jacobean plays.
The most famous reference to medlars, often bowdlerized until modern editions accepted it, appears in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, when Mercutio laughs at Romeo's unrequited love for his mistress Rosaline (II, 1, 34-38):
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"
Another reference can be found in Thomas Middleton's A Trick to Catch the Old One in the character of Widow Medler, impersonated by a courtesan, hence the following pun: "Who? Widow Medler? She lies open to much rumour." (II, 2, 59).
In modern literature, some writers have also mentioned this fruit:
Saki uses medlars in his short stories, which often play on the decay of Edwardian society. In "The Peace of Mowsle Barton", the outwardly quiet farmstead features a medlar tree and corrosive hatred. In "The Boar Pig", the titular animal, Tarquin Superbus, is the point of contact between society ladies cheating to get into the garden party of the season and a not entirely honest young schoolgirl who lures him away by strategically throwing well-bletted medlars: "Come, Tarquin, dear old boy; you know you can't resist medlars when they're rotten and squashy."
D. H. Lawrence: "Wineskins of brown morbidity, autumnal excrementa ... an exquisite odour of leave taking".