Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Le Nespole - Would You Eat This?!

In the spring, Milan's open-air markets fill up with two great types of fruit: strawberries and medlars. Ever heard of a medlar? I hadn't until about 2 years into this European living experience. I figured "nespole" in Italian and "nefles" in French didn't have an English translation like mango and papaya are always called "mango" and "papaya" in Europe and the Americas. I like them even though I have to avert my eyes while I'm eating them. Have any of you English-speakers ever heard of this fruit?

Then I remembered a jelly recipe in "Perfect Preserves" by british food writer, Nora Carey. To give you a sense of the medlar's popularity, she had to introduce the recipe by explaining to her English-speaking audience what a medlar was: "a somewhat forgotten, old-fashioned fruit" and how you're supposed to eat it: "The medlar is not considered mature until it is completely rotted which can occur on the tree...or the fruit can be picked earlier and then spread on a straw mat in a cool place." To the left, you see fresh, pretty medlars ready for buying, but nowhere near ready for eating. The looks of a ripe medlar (photo up at the top) are, I imagine enough to warrant their unpopularity but they really are good, sweet and tangy once they're full of ugly brown spots.

So my question is, would you eat this?


Blogger gmcountrymama said...

Hi, I got here by a recc from Hello Melissa.
No, I wouldn't eat those, but your recipe's are great and I will be checking back again.
I especially love that you put music to cook by. I love most of those bands, around here, not many people have even heard of them. The Dead Milkmen, The Smiths, I used to love that song Meat is Murder and I am not even a vegetarian, but Morrisey makes a good argument.

3:58 PM  
Blogger nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

uhm. no. :)

4:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a funny fruit. my mum eats everytime. I have a super tree of nespole.

5:29 PM  
Blogger Beenzzz said...

I don't think I could eat a fruit that was rotted......

5:50 PM  
Anonymous Darla Bruno said...


Apparently they're medlars.

7:52 PM  
Anonymous Darla Bruno said...

I had the same confusion and bewilderment.

Apparently, they're medlars.

7:52 PM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Hey Country Mama, Thanks for your kind words. You know, part of the pleasure of loving "alternative" (that's what we used to call it) music is that most people haven't heard of it.

Hi Ragazza, Oh, you're just not hungry enough!

Hi Elena, You're lucky to have that big nespole tree right at home.

Hi Beenzzz, But, but cheese is kinda rotted and Not convinced?

Hi Darla, I've seen the medlars they served you and they're just like the photo in my British cookbook. There must be different varieties. Mine don't taste like rotten apples, though. What an exprience!

9:27 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Here in California we call what you pictured loquats. I had always thought that medlars and loquats were different from each other, but I guess I'm wrong. I love loquats and eat them all the time. They are backyard and hedge trees around here and their fruit 1kiddoripened early last month. Their season is short, but delicious!

1:57 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Dude, sorry about the funky type in my last comment. Oh well. It just goes to show that I need to read my comments before posting them.

6:04 AM  
Anonymous Ivonne said...


My aunt has a nespole tree right outside of her house (Ascoli Piceno). I have fond memories of eating nespole when I was there in the summers!

6:10 AM  
Blogger chemcookit said...

Ah!!! Nespole!!! So good! I'm going to steal some of them around here - I see trees full of them and NO ONE PICKS THEM UP!! I think they don't know they're edible!
Still, I'm really curious: I never ate them rotten! I always had them when they were nice and orange, like in the picture you show from the farmers market. I loved them like that. Did you ever try to eat them like that? Please try and let me know if you prefer them rotten. :) I'll have to steal some rotten and not rotten from some trees around here and let you know too. :)

6:14 AM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Hi Christina, My Australian friend, Juliet, raves about her homegrown loquats that she misses terribly in Minnesota. I never knew what they were! I wonder if the brown ones (referenced in comments 5 and 6) are called one thing while the orange ones are called another. Are yours brown or orange?

Hi Ivonne, do you like them ripe(rotten) or pretty?

Hi Chem, Really? That's excellent, kind of like the figs around here. At least Christina and Ivonne know them. I find them too tart when they're still pretty and prefer their sweet (if brown and spotty) taste when they're rotten. Try them like that, I think you'll like them.

12:29 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Hi Susan. The fruits I know as loquats are orange or yellow and look like the pictures you have in this post. The are slightly fuzzy, a bit apricot-like in that regard, and have lovely shiny pits. In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare refers to medlars as fruit like an "open arse" which is a much better description of the brown fruit than the orange fruit. I think that you are correct, and the two are different fruits. What a fun discussion!

10:34 PM  
Blogger Freya and Paul said...

I would try them if only we could get them readily over here! Thanks for this interesting post!

2:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sure, why not? I like persimmons, and there's a similar thing going on there--persimmons only really taste good when they are uber-ripe to rotten!

5:19 PM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Hi Christina, What you describe is exactly what the sell her as "nespole" (medlars)

Hi Freya and Paul, Well, 70 years ago, bananas we super exotic in the U.S. and now they're the most common thing, so there's hope.

Hi Leesa, Oh yeah! I forgot about persimmons. It's true they have to be downright gushy to eat.

6:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would eat nespole and just did. Trouble is, I wish I had your explanation before I saw this fruit.
We rented an apartment in Florence that had a nespole tree in the back yard. I picked a few that were soft but bypassed the really rotten ones. The soft ones still had an interesting flavor and were rather tart. Maybe next year...

7:40 PM  
Anonymous Methuselah said...

Hi, not sure how I stumbled here but anyway I hope my comments are useful. From my limited knowledge. Nespole is the same as the Loquat which is also call JAPANESE medlar, hence the confusion. The true medlar, as one of the earlier replies explains has a few "old English" names one of which is dog's arse (if you look at the end of the fruit opposite the stalk you'll understand why). In the UK, the medlar matures in the autumn but even when mature has to be "bletted" (try looking that up in a dictionary) before it is of much use. The bletted fruit can however be used to make a very distinctive jelly which is a subtle acidic contrast to the rich flavour of cheese.
I now remember what I was actually looking for - just on the off chance have you heard or cooked L'agretto. I have grown some from seed (from an Italian seed company) and wasn't sure what to do with it. We've tried steaming it and serving with butter and that seems o.k. but I was curious how the Italians/Swiss serve it!!

12:40 PM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Hi Anonymous, Yep. Next year eat the ugly, brown splotchy ones; they're much sweeter.

Hi Methuselah, Thanks for the clarification and etymology. I thought bletting was just letting something rot, no?

I LOVE agretti! (a.k.a. Barba di Frate, or Monk's Beard) In Italy it's usually served as simply as you prepared it. If you steam them, make sure to drizzle a bit of the best olive oil you can afford just before serving.

2:23 PM  
Anonymous Methuselah said...

of course you're right 'bletting' is just a polite way of describing 'rotten' I guess there is a fine line between tasty and putrid and 'bletting' is in there somewhere. Thanks for the agretto comments. If I'd been more patient ,and perhaps an Italian speaker, I would have seen your recipe using agretti. plural v. singular. Now off to pick some more and try another recipe. Many thx

9:46 PM  
Blogger Lea said...

they look like loquats to me as well! we've got them all over growing wild in Florida... we used to live off them when we played in the woods when I was little :)

3:40 PM  
Blogger Lea said...

useless fact for you in all of the loquats various names =)

The name loquat derives from lou4 gwat1, the Cantonese pronunciation of its old classical Chinese name (Simplified Chinese: 芦橘; Traditional Chinese: 蘆橘; Pinyin: lújú, literally "reed orange"). In modern Chinese, it is more commonly known as pipa (Chinese: 枇杷; Pinyin: pípá), from the resemblance of its shape to that of the Chinese musical instrument pipa (琵琶). Likewise, in Japanese it is called biwa, similarly named from the corresponding musical instrument, biwa. It is also known as the "Japanese medlar", an appellation used in many languages: nêspera or magnório (Portuguese), níspero (Spanish), nespola (Italian),náspolya (Hungarian), nespra (Catalan), nèfle du Japon or bibasse (French). Other names include: sheseq (Hebrew), Askidinya , Akkidinya , Igadinya or Bashmala (Arabic), Akkadeneh or Akka Dhuniya (Lebanese), zger or Nor Ashkhar (Armenian), mushmala (Georgian), mousmoula or mespilia (Greek), musmula, yeni dunya, yedi dunya, or Malta erigi in Turkish. In both Turkish and Armenian the name literally means "new world."

3:44 PM  
Blogger Lea said...

btw.. we dont wait until theyre rotten to eat them! We pluck them right off the tree when theyre deep orange! A little tart, but good!

3:48 PM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Hi Methuselah, Thanks for all your info too. Hope the agretti go down well.

Hi Lea, WOW! Were you a Loquat in college?

2:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that the previous comments regarding these little beauties being loquats and not medlars are correct. I've done some research and found what a medlar is...looks nothing like a loquat.

7:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6:40 PM  
Anonymous Chili B said...

Loquat (Eriobotrya)is not Medlar (Mespilus) - your grocer has the label wrong, as the fruit pictured is Loquat.
Here in California, I have a HUGE Loquat tree which has about 10,000 fruits (no joke, probably more!) and unfortunately many go to waste as there is only so much loquat butter one can eat....or make!

Note: I've never heard of them staining your fingers and nails light brown, as some profess, and I've eaten them for 35 years.

7:45 PM  
Blogger SporePrintMaker said...

mmmmmm, these are actually delicious, and they are not good only when rotted, i have never eaten them rotten. as kids in Croatia, my sister and I would sit in nespola trees, and eat them all day long.

now i live in south carolina, and i have a nespola tree planted in my yard. i cannot wait till it matures and starts bearing fruit.

7:38 PM  
Blogger Azra said...

Nespola is great fruit, that one u can pick in wild or those which you may found in market. The second type is bigger than wild one. And yes, I will eat them, again as I do many times before.

7:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I grew up in Sicily, and it's not true that they have to be completely rotted before you eat them!LOL
Only explanation i can give to your suggestion is that when they dry up a bit they become sweeter just like any other fruit (ever ate an apple that was a bit dry?)
And by the way, those are the ugliest nespole i've ever seen in my life! Come to my country house one day, and i'll show what real nespole look and taste like. ;)

4:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I tasted Nespole for the first time this month when visiting a cousin in Tucany - Messy to prepare but delicious to eat. My cousin also used fresh cherries with them and cooked a Nespole and Cherry crumble. YUMMY..........

6:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love Nespole:-) I have had them since I was a kid.

3:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 4:26am is right on. I grew up in Italy and love le nespole. there is no explanation to eat them at that late stage

1:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As one comment noted above, there are loquats (Japanese medlars, or Japanese plums) that grow abundantly in California and Italy, are ready to eat fresh in the spring, and are pictured at the start of this thread. Then there is the Common or European medlar that is harvested in the fall and must be rotted before it is fit for consumption. It would seem that the European medlar is grown in colder climates than Italy and California. We have two loquat trees in our southern California garden that produce good fruit in early April, but the best loquats (nespole) we ever ate were served to us by friends in western Sicily in May or June.

5:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We went to Naples this month and saw these every where, they are very yummy and although slightly tart if eaten without the extra brown they are still good.

Thanks for explaining what they are as we couldn't find out!

9:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Enjoyed them in Bosa Marina this summer, brought some stones home & have them sprouting in their pots. hope to grow our own trees here, wish us luck...

2:38 PM  

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