Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Bletting Medlars - With Care

The medlar is the true decadent's fruit, a fine and rare delight but only when practically putrescent, achieved by the arcane ritual of “bletting”. A friend sent me a box one year from their garden and the Royal Mail obligingly bletted them en route, so that the brown parcel had slightly sinister dank stains upon arrival.

They are rarely offered for sale as they are so hard to keep and to transport, because of the delicate matter of the bletting. So I thought I should like to grow some myself, and some years ago ordered a tree from Appleby, which as well as the fruit offers us beautiful star-white blossoms and, in autumn, leaves of old gold.

Medlarians seem to delight in trying to describe their taste, such as “fig-and-honey”, “apple sauce with leaf mould”. There are literary references in Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet (a bawdy one), and in Saki, D.H. Lawrence and Nabokov, and three at least that I have noted in decadent or fantastic literature.

The medlar is evoked in the first line of aesthetical poet Theophile Marzials’ ‘Pastoral’, although here it is the tree’s white flower that is praised, pale and gorgeous as a lotus. In J. Meade Falkner’s The Lost Stradivarius, the rakish diabolist places his dark violin next to a dish of medlars, sent from his country house, hinting at his own decadence. And in Arthur Machen’s The Hill of Dreams, the ardent visionary Lucian paces in reverie in the rectory garden from the quince tree to the medlar, taking symbolic steps from golden lustre to sombre mould.

Two labels, or 'etiquettes', have been issued in the Strange Stamps series, marked 'Bletting Medlars - With Care', for use in posting boxes of the fruit to friends.

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