Medlars – a Rude Fruit for Winter

Detail of photo from the American Viscountess showing a medlar (link to the site below:)

Medlars were a very common and useful fruit particularly in the Medieval and Early Modern period. They come out in December but can only be eaten when they are rotten and ‘bletted’. They also store well. They, therefore, provide a source of winter sweetness when there were few other fresh sources available.

They are from the Rosaceae family which includes apples, pears, rosehips and quinces. The English called them ‘open arses’ or ‘dog’s arses’ or ‘granny’s arses’ because of the way they looked until the more polite French name the Medlar caught on.

Shakespeare uses both words and uses their sexual connotations as they were thought also to look like female genitalia. A medlar was also a name for a prostitute. So in Romeo and Juliet this speech by Mercutio to Romeo and their mates contains some very bawdy thoughts:

If love be blind, love cannot hit the mark.
Now will he sit under a medlar tree
And wish his mistress were that kind of fruit
As maids call medlars when they laugh alone.
O, Romeo, that she were, O that she were
An open-arse and thou a poppering pear!

RJ 2.1.33

I think you can also see how good Shakespeare was at making his allusions available to all classes. For the sophisticated he begins with the reference to the French medlar and in case the groundlings are missing out throws in the ‘open-arse’ so they know what he is alluding to.

Medlars fell out of favour in the 18th and 19th Centuries. For more on medlars have a look at British Food history

Or watch this video from ‘the American Viscountess’ from which I extracted the picture of the medlar above.

Video on Medlars


Every Thursday (from Jan 7th 2021) at 6.30pm Exit 2 Bank Underground Station

A walk which explores the City of London that was destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666. By 1400 London was dominating the affairs of the Kingdom in spectacular fashion and had grown into a sophisticated medieval Capital, competing against the great capitals of Europe.

We will walk in the footsteps of Geffrey Chaucer, in the muddy City Streets, exploring the unhealthy conditions and poverty amidst great riches and pageantry. It was a cosmopolitan City with colonies of Italians, Germans, Dutch, and French who lived cheek by jowl with native Londoners.

By the 16th Century despite repeated visitations of plague, the huge influx of newcomers created non-stop growth in London. There was a corresponding increase in trade, in crime, in violence, and in creativity.
There were riots against foreigners, riots against May Revels, and burnings at the stake of both protestants and catholics as society struggled to cope with the impact of religious change.

With so many young people drawn into the City to work in its expanding industries, entertainment grew more sophisticated and poets could make a living penning entertainments to the masses. The London landscape changed dramatically as new renaissance inspired architecture began to replace the medieval timber framed buildings and the old medieval monasteries were pulled down.

We explore London in one of its greatest periods of change. The walk is given alternately by Kevin Flude & Leo Heaton

This is a walk for London Walks