In 2011, archaeologists unearthed an unusual object in a Roman toilet. A team of experts was excavating in the ancient village of Tasgatum (now Shenzhen, Switzerland). The area was ruled by a Celtic king who was given the land by Julius Caesar of the Roman Empire.
The village was built on the banks of the Rhine. It was an important trade route at the time and its remains have been under water ever since.
The fruit, which would have rotted many centuries ago, is now found here in a surprisingly safe condition, preserved in a humid environment due to lack of oxygen. Here archaeologists also found 19 surprisingly large seeds in the remains of fruits such as potatoes, peaches, cherries and walnuts.
Although these seeds have been buried there for 2000 years, they look as fresh as if they had just been found yesterday. However, the fruit of these seeds is so anonymous that even botanists can be confused.
The fruit is known today as the medallion, but for 900 years it was called the “open anus”. The reason was its structure. In France, it had different names, meaning donkey, monkey, or dog’s anus.
And yet, in medieval Europe, the fruit was very popular.
The first mention of Medler is found in Greek poetry in the seventh century BC. The fruit is thought to have eventually fallen into the hands of the Romans, who brought it to southern France and Britain.
In 800 AD, Charlemagne added it to the list of plants that must be present in the king’s various gardens.
Nearly 200 years later, the English author Alfred of Einsheim popularized the fruit’s nickname.
From there, the fruit grew in popularity and became an integral part of medieval monasteries and royal gardens, as well as village gardens.
He is also mentioned in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and Anne of Brittany, a two-time queen, in the Book of Hours, a popular medieval pictorial religious text.
Henry VIII planted a medallion plant in Hampton Court and gave it as a large gift to his French counterpart.
This fruit was at its height until the seventeenth century, and was grown throughout England in the same way as ordinary apples, pears, mulberries, and soft yellow pears. After its rise, it rapidly declined.
The fruit was known to people until the early 20th century, but then, after the 1950s, it suddenly disappeared from the public scene.
The fruit, once common in homes and what a Roman commentator called “almost a madness”, is now a romantic reminder of the past and is now found only in the garden and in museums and courtyards. Appears.
Within decades of its disappearance, it had become a mysterious fruit for many fruit sellers. In 1989, an American researcher wrote that perhaps one in a hundred botanists might not have seen Medler. Today it does not sell in a single British supermarket.
And in public places where there are still plants, they often remain anonymous and are left on the ground to rot.
Image source ALAMY
What was it about this strange fruit that gripped medieval Europe and then why did it disappear?
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The words ‘medler’ and ‘open ars’ can be used for both fruit and shrub. The biological name of this tree is Mespelus germanica and it is similar to roses, wild apples and pears.
It is famous not only for its fruit but also for its beauty due to its round canopy-like shade and long leaves over the crooked branches at the base.
Every spring it is filled with star-shaped flowers and they bloom from time to time so that they can be painted and by autumn the tree is filled with green, brown and red colors.
This fruit is unusual for two reasons. Reason 1: It ripens in December, so it was one of the rare sources of sugar in the Middle Ages.
Second reason: It is only edible when it is spoiled.
When they are first broken, the medallions are greenish brown and look like crooked onions. If eaten immediately, they can make you very sick. Medlar causes diarrhea, says 18th-century physician and botanist
But if you put them in a box for a few weeks, then they become darker in color and their hardness turns into softness and they become like baked apples.
The chemical reactions in this fruit are not clear but in simple words enzymes break down the complex carbohydrates of fruits and convert them into simple sugars like fructose and glucose which increases the amount of malic acid in apples and other fruits. Including this fruit is also the main reason for the sour taste.
At the same time, the strong molecules that cause the young red wine to become sour and lose antioxidants such as ascorbic acid (vitamin C).
This process is called blitching, and the word was coined by a botanist who noted that there was no word for it until 1839.
This process results in a very sweet fruit that tastes somewhat complex, like ripe dates eaten with lemons and the pulp being a bit grainy.
Jane Steward planted 120 medallion plants in Norfolk Orchard, UK in 2015, which is probably the largest collection of this plant in the UK. “When it is fully ripe, it becomes a very delicious fruit,” she says.
Image source ALAMY
But if you don’t like rotten fruit, you are not alone. It is also a fact that even when the fruit was at its peak of popularity, opinions about it were divided.
In 1989, in a satirical research paper, he collected the famous evils about it. A nineteenth-century horticultural book states that “at most it can be said that it is only one degree better than rotten apples.”
An anonymous author says that the medallion is of no use unless it is cooked and when it is cooked it tastes like waste.
Then there is the question of how to eat Medalker. People usually take it to the mouth and suck its pulp directly.
But in rich circles it was placed on the dining table with cheese. It would still be full of wood chips in which it was bled and then it would be taken out with the help of a spoon. It can be baked, roasted, made into jelly and added to tortillas. It can even be made into brandy or vinegar.
In addition, the need to allow the medallion to rot before eating indicates why the medieval people were interested in the symbolic significance of such a fruit.
In Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, he compares the fruit to how a person cannot achieve perfection in nature, such as lying, getting angry, arrogant, and getting other people’s things before he is weak and old.
But it is possible that the blitz was the cause of the anonymity of this fruit. The fruit remained a winter fruit until the 19th and 20th centuries, and during World War II the British government encouraged people to grow it, but soon after it disappeared from stores.
One possible reason is that fruits such as bananas and pineapples became cheaper and were available all year round, while the tree produced fruit year after year, so there was little need for this fruit in the cold season.
Steward’s experiments with this fruit and the fact that no one wants to spend the day outside picking fruit in the winter may be the reason for its extinction.
Medlar trees can still be seen in Europe today in rows in a garden or on the outskirts of a city, but they have to be traced.
Steward personally likes a plant planted in 1820 at Langley Abbey in Norfolk, which is still bearing fruit 200 years later. She says it’s very beautiful.
But the story does not end there.
Medlar is still well-known in his native land near the Sea of Gilan. It is still widely grown in Iran, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia and Turkey, where it is sold in markets and is called Mesmula.
Steward says he was once given a message by a Kyrgyz family who moved to England that they were anxious to find and replant the medalists they had left behind.
The plant also has a long history of medicine in the region. In the northern Iranian province of Gilan, the leaves, bark, fruit and wood of the medallion are used to treat many ailments such as diarrhea, flatulence and menstrual irregularities.
Interestingly, it was used similarly in medieval Europe. In the 17th century, botanist and Dr. Nicholas Clipper wrote that medlar could be helpful in controlling excessive menstruation for women. If dried fruit is used in combination with crushed cloves, nutmeg, coral and rose liqueur, it gives relief to the stomach.
In 2021, Medlar is no longer as unpopular in Europe as it once was. Information about it is reaching people, thanks to enthusiastic people like Steward, who also sells a variety of medler products, including jam and gin (a type of wine).
If this trend continues, perhaps a new list of indescribable names for this fruit will emerge.