Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The Mystery of the Missing Medlar

Perhaps you have not heard of medlars. I would not be surprised, as I had not until this time last year when I was visiting an organic farm for work, and they had a couple of medlar trees in their orchard. The farmer invited us to try one. I have never tasted anything like it. The flesh is a fragrant toffee apple flavoured paste, like eating a dessert that is conveniently growing on a tree. I took one home to ripen, and I still have the seeds, with the long term plan of finding somewhere  to plant it. 

The medlar is a native tree of Persia, and was brought over to this country by the Romans. Popular in the Victorian times, they have gone out of favour to the extent of being all but unknown these days. Perhaps part of the reason for this is that the fruit must be 'bletted', a polite way of saying rotten, before they reach the perfect taste and consistency. But they dare hardy little trees, and do still survive in old gardens and orchards.

I set about finding out if Cambridge had any medlar trees, and the Cambridge fruit map came up trumps, pointing me to the most incongruous location: the middle of the humanities faculties campus. The Cambridge Spy wrote about this tree, describing how 'One winter's day, the Spy had snuck into the Sidgwick Site, and was busy scrabbling about in the frosty mud for these little rotten gems, when an elderly academic in tweeds walked past, twinkling, "So, you've discovered the secret of the medlar tree!" His own memory of the tree stretched back to 1960, and he took the opportunity to pass on his own Christmas Day breakfast recipe: roasted medlars with the tops sliced off, filled with cream and sprinkled with brown sugar.' However, when I arrived I found that the new Alison Richards Building was in construction, and the little tree was on the wrong side of the construction site hoardings. I resolved to come back later in the year.

Photo: The Cambridge Spy
This evening, I returned to check if the tree was accessible yet, only to discover that it was gone. In the location given on the map, there is a square hole in the paving slabs filled with earth, indicating that something is going to fill it. I went into the English faculty next door to find out who I should speak to about the building next door (as it is still a construction site) and the friendly chap on the desk said that he thought there were preservation orders on all the trees close to the site. However, I had a look online and found a document relating the the construction of the new building. Apparently, 'a medlar tree is proposed as a replacement for the one that will be removed'. So, the venerable old tree is no more, but perhaps next November, there will again be medlars on the Sidgwick Site. In the meantime, I have heard that there is a medlar in the Orchard, Grantchester, so will try to head out there this weekend in search of my medlar fix!

Site map showing the location of the tree

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1 comment:

  1. There's a medlar tree in Kimberly Road. Towards the southern end on the westerly side. http://g.co/maps/39q7z

    HTH. :)