Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mespilus germanica – Medlar Apple

Medlar Pomes Still on the Tree, Mondovì Italy
Nespola on the tree

One thing that stood out to us during our time in Piemonte this time were the nespola trees (English: medlar apple) – Mespilus germanica. We never really noticed them before but in this visit we saw them quite a bit. Some families we visited picked and stored them and served them as an after dinner treat. Likely they picked them after a hard frost to mellow the fruit, a process called bletting. From Wikipedia: “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.” While sounding tasty, the medlar presents a confusing dilemma: it looks like it’s rotten when it’s best to eat! In fact, throughout history, the symbolism of the medlar has been associated with the tawdry side of life: rotten things or affairs, destitution, prostitution and wanton ways. Poor fruit.

One half of Travelmarx savored the taste of the fruit. The preferred method of eating them seems to be to grab them by one end (the sepal-end?) and squeeze the pulp into your mouth.

The Medlar apple was first described by Theophratus (c. 371 – c. 287 BC) in his Enquiry Into Plants (περι φυτων ιστορια). In Latin, Theophrastus’s book became known as Historia Plantarum. A version of Enquiry into Plants can be downloaded for free at the Internet Archive here. It is a translation published in 1916 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

According to the Universal Dictionary of the English Language, the genus name derives from the Greek mespile, the name of the medlar tree, which became mespilus in Latin? The Italian name, nespola, we would guess is a “corruption” of the Latin.

Nespola (Medlar Apple) as Served to Us After Dinner, Ceva Italy
Nespola, Medlar apple at Caterina's Dinner

A Nespola Tree, Mondovì Italy

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