heirloom fruit

Golden toffee apples.

IMG_9980Yesterday morning, the sun came out and sparkled on the soaked landscape.  So I took our little dog Harry and sheepdog Sam on the quad bike for a big run around the pinoak paddock.  (Jack doesn’t come, he’s scared of the bike!)  And on the way, we passed the Medlar tree.  Now in its fourth year it is laden with fruit and in the watery light of the morning sun it looked incredibly beautiful.  The medlars are like golden toffee apples and are set off by the Manchurian Pear as it changes colour, and you can just see in the background (pics below) our neighbours pinoaks turning colour in the same amber tones.  Very soon their Pinot Noir vines will also turn to match and the russet tones gather together in an almost perfect autumn painting.  People ask me what we do with the medlars.  And the answer at this stage is nothing.  I just pick them and admire them in a bowl.  In times of old they were valued as a fruit that was available in winter, but you can’t eat them off the tree.  You have to wait till they spoil, either by frost or becoming ‘bletted’ (basically rotten) in storage, then they are considered a delicacy and can be served as a dessert, or as an accompaniment to cheese and port.  An acquired taste, I believe. I’ve never tried them but a friend makes them into Medlar Jelly which I’m told is delicious.   So why grow fruit that you can’t eat?  Because I saw a lovely specimen years ago in the garden of the late Christopher Lloyd, at Great Dixter and it was so beautiful I had to have one.  It has massive blossoms in the spring – almost like magnolia flowers, then this golden fruit in autumn.  When it is bigger I’m imagining great branches of it in a massive floral arrangement and will pass some on to the very talented Margaret Young Whitford to turn into some incredible installation. Which is what she does so brilliantly. And that’s another story for another day. IMG_9979 IMG_9982 bletted_medlar medlar_blossomIMG_1907 IMG_7481 IMG_7493Medlar notes (thank you Wikipedia):

Mespilus germanica, known as the medlar or common medlar, is a large shrub or small tree, and the name of the fruit of this tree. The fruit has been cultivated since Roman times, and is unusual in being available in winter, and in being eaten when ‘bletted’ (browned by rot). It is eaten raw and in a range of dishes.

Despite its Latin name, which means German or Germanic medlar, it is indigenous to southwest Asia and also southeastern Europe, especially the Black Sea coasts of Bulgaria and of modern Turkey. The medlar was already being cultivated about three thousand years ago in the Caspian Sea region of northern Iran and Azerbaijan. It was introduced to Greece around 700 BC, and to Rome about 200 BC. It was an important fruit plant during Roman and medieval times. By the 17th and 18th century, however, it had been superseded by other fruits, and is little cultivated today. M. germanica pomes are one of the few fruits that become edible in winter, making it an important tree for gardeners who wish to have fruit available all year round. Mespilus germanica fruits are hard, acidic, and high in bitter tannins. 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 the consistency and flavour reminiscent of apple sauce. This process can confuse those new to medlars, as a softened fruit looks as if it has spoiled.

Once bletted, the fruit can be eaten raw, and are often eaten as a dessert, for example with cheese or tarts, or 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. In Iran, the fruits, leaves, bark and wood of the tree have been used as medicines for ailments including diarrhoea, bloating of the stomach, throat abscesses and fever.

Mespilus germanica requires warm summers and mild winters and prefers sunny, dry locations and slightly acidic soil. Under ideal circumstances, the deciduous plant grows up to 8 metres (26 ft) tall. Generally, it is shorter and more shrub-like than tree-like. With a lifespan of 30–50 years, the medlar tree is rather short-lived. The leaves are densely hairy and turn red in autumn before falling. It is found across Southern Europe where it is generally rare. It is reported to be naturalized in some woods in Southeast England, but is found in few gardens.
The flowers have five broadly ovate white petals and appear in late spring. They are hermaphrodite, pollinated by bees, and self-fertile. The flower is about 6 centimetres wide and the reddish-brown fruit is a pome, 2–3 centimetres diameter, with wide-spreading persistent sepals around a central pit, giving a ‘hollow’ appearance to the fruit.

 

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Today in my garden

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The apples are bursting into life and I’m wishing I’d been more organised and ordered the heritage apples I plan to espalier around the fences enclosing the vegetable garden.  Now it will have to be next winter.  Inspired by the extraordinary orchard at RHS Wisley, I am planning an exciting display of old English and French cultivars.  First on my list was the famous Cox’s Orange Pippin which will fruit for the first season this year. It is widely regarded as the finest of all dessert apples.  Cox’s Orange Pippin  ‘Pippin’ is an old English word derived from the French word for ‘seedling’. The same word can be seen in the modern French for a plant nursery or garden centre – ‘pepiniere’. Like many old apple varieties Cox’s Orange Pippin was discovered as a chance seedling.  If you would like to research this further, here’s a link to the Heritage Fruits Society www.heritagefruitssociety.org.au/

About the Heritage Fruits Society

The Heritage Fruits Society is based in Melbourne, Australia. Their aim is to conserve heritage fruit varieties (also known as ‘heirloom fruits’) on private and public land.  They enable and encourage society members to research this wide range of varieties and to inform the public on the benefits of heritage fruits for health, sustainability and biodiversity.
You can read about their history here and you can find their list of heritage apples here.

A list of some of the Heritage/Heirloom apples you might like to consider from Petty’s Orchard in Templestowe, Victoria, Australia.  It is one of Melbourne’s oldest commercial orchards, and it holds the largest collection of heritage/heirloom apple varieties on mainland Australia, with more than two hundred varieties of old and rare apples. The maintenance of the apple tree collection is done by Heritage Fruits Society volunteers. Anyone can come and help. Find out more!

Petty’s Orchard Complete Heritage Apple Collection

Abas

Akane

Albany Beauty

Alexander

Alfriston Mother (=American Mother)

Andre Sauvage Antonovka Kameniohka

Atlanta

Autumn Tart

Baldwin

Ball’s Seedling

Barry

Bashfort

Batman’s Tree

Batt’s Seedling

Baumann’s Reinette

Beauty of Bath

Beauty of Stoke

Bec D’Oie

Bedford Pippin Cross

Bedfordshire Foundling

Belle de Boskoop

Belle de Magny

Berner Rosen

Bismarck

Blenheim Orange

Blue Pearmain

Bonza Boy’s Delight

Bramley’s Seedling

Breakwell’s Seedling

Brittle Sweet

Brown’s Apple

Browns Pippin

Bulmer’s Norman

Buncum

Butters Early Red

Carolina Red June

Cataignier

Cayuga

Cayuga Redstreak

Chandler

Cimetiere du Pays

Cleopatra

Climax

Coldstream Guard

Cornish Aromatic

Cornish Gilliflower

Cox’s Orange Pippin

Cox’s Orange Pippin Red

Cox’s Pomona

Cranberry Pippin

Crofton

Crofton Red

Dabinett

Delicious

Caldicott

Delicious Glen Vimey

Delicious Hi Early

Delicious Richared

Delicious Starkrimson

Democrat

Democrat (Black)

Devonshire Quarrenden

Dewdney’s Seedling

Discovery Doctor Hogg

Dunn’s Seedling (Monroe’s Seedling)

Duquesne

Early Victoria

Edward VII

Edwards Coronation

Eggleton Styre

Egremont Russett

Eldon Pippin

Ellison’s Orange

Emneth Early (=Early Victoria)

Esopus Spitzenburg

Esopus Sptizenburg

Fameuse (=Snow Apple)

Fenouillet Gris

Forfar Pippin

Forge

French Crab (=Winter Greening)

Freyberg

Frost

Fuji

Gala

Geante D’Exposition

Geeveston Fanny

Geoff’s Tree

George Carpenter

George Neilson

Gildering Sage D’espagne

Gladstone

Golden Delicious

Golden Harvey (=Brandy Apple)

Grandmere

Granny Smith

Gravenstein

Gravenstein Early

Grosseille

Hollow Crown

Holly

Hubbardton Nonsuch

Hyslop Crab

Ida Red

Improved Foxwhelp

Irish Peach

Isaac Newton’s Tree

James Grieve

Jaunet

Jerseymac

Jonagold

Jonared

Jonathan

Jonathan Red

Jongrimes

July Red

Keswick Codlin

Kidds Orange Red

King Cole

King David

King of the Pippins

King of Tompkins County

Kingston Black

Kirk’s Seedling

Lady Finger

Lady William

Lalla

Laxton’s Fortune

Laxton’s Superb

Legana

Lodi

London Pippin (Five Crown)

Lord Derby

Lord Lambourne

Lord Nelson

Lord Suffield

MacIntosh Early

Magnolia

Maigold

McIntosh Early

Melba

Melrose

Merton Worcester

Michelin

Minjon

Monarch Cross

Monroe

Murray Gem

Mutsu

Newtown Green Pippin

Nickajack

Norfolk

Northern Spy

Opalescent

Orange de per

Orleans Reinette

Ortley (=Cleopatra)

Peasgood’s Nonsuch

Pine Golden Pippin

Pittmaston Pineapple Fameuse (=Pomme de Neige)

Poor House

Potts’ Seedling

Prima

Prince Alfred

Prince Edward

Queen Cox

Quinte

Ranger

Red Astrachan

Red Delicious

Red Granny Smith

Red Winesap

Red Winter Pearmain (=Buncombe)

Reinette d’Angleterre

Reinette du Canada

Reinette Musque Rheinette de Macon

Rhode Island Greening

Ribston Pippin

Rokewood

Rome Beauty

Roundway Magnum Bonum

Rous La Tour

Royal Jubilee

Saint Edmunds Pippin

Saint Edmunds Russet

Scarlet Nonpariel

Scarlet Staymared

Scotia

Spartan

Splendour

Starkes Earliest

Starking Hi Early

Statesman

Stayman’s Winesap

Stewart’s Seedling

Summer Strawberry

Sunbury Late

Sundowner

Sweet Coppin

Symond’s Winter

Twenty Ounce

Tydeman’s Early Worcester

Upton Pyne

Vista Bella

Winter transparent Early

Woolbrook Russet

Worcester Pearmain

Yarlington Mill

Yates