Medlars are in the Rosaceae family and closely related to the Hawthorn. They are native to south east Europe and south west Asia but are an ancient introduction. Occasional wild trees, often with some thorns, are found in south east England, leading one eminent botanist to suggest in his Flora of Sussex (1937) that they were native there. Like Quince and Mulberry, they were once far more common in our gardens and orchards but, much more so than the Quince and Mulberry, they have fallen seriously out of fashion and I have seldom encountered them in a thirty year career in arboriculture. Despite its attractive flowers and good autumn colour, which make it a good tree for a small garden, it seems that people considering a fruit tree these days will stick with Apples, Pears and Plums. And have to say I find it understandable since, having planted a Medlar which grew well until being muscled off its more vigorous Hawthorn rootstock, I never summoned the courage to eat the fruit - but it's still worth planting just for the flowers.
Flowering is in late May or early June. This year, like everything else, they were early and in full flower in mid-May. They are not displayed in profusion like the more commonly planted fruit trees - but what they lack in numbers, they make up for with luxurious large white single flowers produced on short woolly stalks.
So why has the tree, or more precisely its fruit, fallen out of favour? I suppose it's not the most attractive fruit in the world, but shops sell Ugli fruit which is named because it is, well, ugly, so that can't be the only reason. That said, one thing that made it harder for me to sample the fruit from my own Medlar tree was learning that, because of its appearance, the French call it 'Cul de chien' which translates as a 'dog's arse' - if you'll excuse my french. I later learned that Shakespeare and Chaucer refer to it as an 'open arse' which is worse - and I can't even blame the French. This information did not help as I rather dubiously studied my first crop when it was ready to eat. And it is when it's ready to eat that caused my courage to finally fail me as I pushed my first fruit around the plate and finally reach for some cheese and crackers instead.
A dry apple sauce doesn't sound too bad but I haven't seen any description of it as delicious, or even as quite nice. Bob Flowerdew, when on Radio 4's Gardener's Question Time, advised "I'd strongly suggest that you wait until the frosts have hit them hard - in about mid-November. At that point you pick them and stand them in a place that's frost-free but very cool and they slowly rot - it's called 'bletting'. When they've reached the consistency of a rotten pear you tentatively peel them. There's an old recipe which involved cream, liquors, and sugar, so I'd recommend you mix the cream, sugar and liquors together and quietly slip the medlars into the dustbin". On the other hand, celebrity chefs are always looking for a new angle these days and I saw one recipe for a Medlar jelly to serve with roast pork or game - but I doubt it will catch on while a superior apple sauce comes in jars from the supermarket.
If you are surprised by Shakespeare's rather crude reference to the fruit, as I was, it may be that you have seen or read the commonly bowdlerised versions. So here in uncensored glory is Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet:
If love be blind, love cannot hit the mark.
Now will he sit under a medlar tree,
And wish his mistress were that kind of fruit
As maids call medlars, when they laugh alone.
O Romeo! that she were, O! that she were
An open arse, thou a poperin pear.
Romeo, good night: I’ll to my truckle-bed;