Thursday, May 17, 2007

On Medlars and Shakespeare

At the end of last October I posted about the medlar tree outside the balcony which was then in flower and full of swarms of bees - so the bees were certainly around before the winter, despite what I said in the post On Bees the other day. Anyway, the tree is now full of ripe fruit, much to the delight of the local birds who are doing their best to get to it before we do.

I've realised that the name medlar may have been misleading. It's actually a Japanese medlar, or loquat (Eriobotrya japonica), which is a different genus from what is normally meant by medlar (Mespilus) though both are from the same subfamily maloideae - which also includes fruits like apples and pears.

Loquats (nespole in Italian) are quite popular here - lots of people grow them and you can buy them in greengrocers and supermarkets. I've never seen them in Britain and maybe the climate's not suitable for the tree. But even the other type of medlar seems to have gone out of fashion in the UK. Till I came here I had only ever heard of it through Shakespeare's plays. I don't actually like the loquat fruit much, and it seems that Shakespeare didn't like the type of medlar he was familiar with either, as all the references are derogatory. His description of the fruit in As You Like It is just as true of the loquat as of other medlars - Touchstone has been reading some dreadful poetry written for Rosalind by Orlando and says ...

Touchstone : This is the very false gallop of verses: why do you infect yourself with them?
Rosalind : Peace! you dull fool: I found them on a tree.
Touchstone : Truly, the tree yields bad fruit.
Rosalind : I’ll graff it with you, and then I shall graff it with a medlar: then it will be the earliest fruit i’ the country; for you’ll be rotten ere you be half ripe, and that’s the right virtue of the medlar.

When they're not ripe, loquats are very sharp - but they then turn brown and rotten very quickly. So you tend to bite into them and find acid on one side and gunge on the other.

But the tree is beautiful, with broad glossy leaves which are light green when they're young and turn dark green as they get older. Ours is right outside the kitchen and I often stand on the balcony with a glass of wine in the evening while dinner is cooking, just looking at it.


anna maria said...

Hi Sue,
I'm very familiar with loquats/nespole and love them, having lived in a warmer part of California as a child, and for many years in southern Italy as a teenager and young adult.
You have a beautiful balcony.

Annie in Austin said...

Hi Sue,

Although I'd heard Loquats called Japanese Plum, the term Japanese medlar was new to me. I have a couple of loquat trees but had ice this year which damaged the developing fruit.

If you're interested, Ki of Muck N Mire had a post on the true medlar last March 16th, and Elizabeth Lawrence talked about the passage from Shakespeare in one of her books. She spoke of her own desire to own a medlar and how the true medlar fruit must be 'bletted', that is, taken almost to the point of rotting, in order to be edible.

Your tree is gorgeous! Mine are still pretty small, and although I'd like fruit, at least mine bloom and smell great. And thanks for the Italian name of nespole.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

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