Medlars Credit: Mike Sula for Chicago Reader

So much for my English degree. I came across medlars, or Mespilus germanica, at the farmers’ market this week, a fruit that was new to me but very familiar to Shakespeare, Thomas Middleton, Cervantes, and Rabelais. Its Wikipedia page reads like a syllabus for the Western canon. The medlar was popular among so many dead white writers in part because it’s only edible after it’s bletted, which means you have wait until it rots, which some scribblers saw as a metaphor for prostitution.

Ye Olde Anal Obsessive Chaucer had another word for them, per “The Reeve’s Tale”:

This white top writeth myne olde yeris;
Myn herte is mowled also as myne heris—
But if I fare as dooth an openers
That ilke fruyt is ever lenger the wers

Get it? It’s because they look like buttholes.

Had I known better, I would’ve left my medlars outside last night, because bletting can be advanced by frost. As of now they’re still hard and not giving off much of a come-hither vibe.

Word on the street is that they taste like apple butter, and beyond squishing them straight into your pie hole, you can make jelly, jam, and medlar cheese, a kind of custardy dessert straight out of the Middle Ages.

These medlars come from the great Seedling Fruit of Casco Ganges Township, Michigan, and if you’re lucky you might score some for yourself tomorrow at the Green City Market’s first indoor market of the season at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, or at the last Evanston Farmers Market of the year. For as Saki said, “Come, Tarquin, dear old boy, you know you can’t resist medlars when they’re rotten and squashy.”

Correction: This post has been amended to correctly reflect the home base of Seedling Fruit. It is Casco, not Ganges Township, Michigan.