OK, what fruit is being described in this eighteenth-century snippet: “A fruit, vulgarly called an open arse; of which it is more truly than delicately said, that it is never ripe till it is as rotten as a turd, and then it is not worth a fart.”

If it’s any help, the French call it cul du chien – dog’s butt.

Any the wiser? No? Well, it’s medlar fruit (nèfle). Here’s one we picked the other day, not knowing what it was. We picked three or four. We found them growing in a hedgerow along a lane during one of bike rides. After a quick bit of research on the Net I worked out that we had medlars.

Medlars are old-fashioned fruits, like quinces. (We picked some quinces, coings, up off the road too during the same bike ride.) They are strange looking things, although I can’t really see the dog butt likeness, and what’s stranger is that you can’t eat them until they’re actually rotting, or ‘bletting’. That’s not a massively appealing thought, but apparently you can also make medlars usable by freezing them for a few hours and then thawing them out. They’ll be all mushy without having rotted first. I prefer the sound of that.

I intend to make medlar jelly once we’ve picked some more. After freezing and thawing, I’ll cut them into chunks, simmer them for three hours just covered in water and then drain them through cheesecloth overnight. Mix in an equal quantity of sugar, and then simmer again until it gels. This is the same method that you can use for quince jelly. Medlar jelly is said to be delicious, very rich and aromatic. I can’t wait to try it. And I’ve also come across a recipe for roasting them with butter and cloves which is tempting too.

Medlar trees are slow growing and their wood is very fine grained and strong. Because of its hardness, it’s been used for making spears and windmill parts in the past! The Basque people traditionally made Makhilas from them. These are a combination of a walking stick and defensive weapon and they were engraved with special symbols while the wood was still growing.

Here’s the entire haul of our bike ride. It’s all I could fit into my bar bag. I don’t have a rack for panniers on my bike, and Chris is currently riding his old Bill Cuss racing bike since his mountain bike has finally given up the ghost after nearly 20 years hard riding. That bike is rackless as well, and neither of us thought to bring a rucksack for roadside goodies. That won’t happen again though. It’s the free hedgerow bounty  season so we’ll be taking full advantage. There’s an incredible amount of walnuts on the trees this year, and I’ve never seen so many apples and pears either. Several trees have lost branches due to the sheer weight of the fruit on them.  The early hot weather and dry summer seems to have suited them well, to my surprise. And also my delight!