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My Relationship with a Medlar

By Margaret Best

I have painted medlars but never tasted one, however that is about to change.

In September 2006 a small group of artists went to England to paint with renowned botanical artist, Pandora Sellars. I visited her at her charming country home just before the class to discuss final arrangements and to seek suitable subject matter for myself. To my considerable pleasure I discovered she had some very old English medlar trees bearing an abundant crop of fruit in her wonderful garden. I had seen these fruits for the first time when I was looking at William Hooker’s original paintings in the Lindley Library in London in 2004 and discovered them again in southern Spain at the end of 2005.

For those readers who have no idea what the unusual and ancient fruit of a Mespilus germanica looks like, I have attached a section of my painting that resulted from this class. This painting was exhibited at the recent 12th International Botanical Art Exhibition at the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and is now in the permanent collection.

I decided to reproduce this painting in a set of limited edition prints and when preparing an artist’s statement to accompany the print, I completed some quick research on the tree and fruit. I discovered that medlars are believed to have an ancient history of cultivation originating in Persia and introduced to the Greek and Roman civilizations in approximately 2 BC. The two known European varieties, the Nottingham (English) and Dutch are still grown today for their fruit that when fully ripe and crushed, is somewhat similar in texture to apple sauce. The first written record of this fruit was in 1270 made by a monk working in the garden of Westminster Abbey in London. A medlar is highly revered in France as it forms the basis of the famous and expensive preserve known as cotignac. Apparently it is wonderful when served with cheese and wine!

Shortly after Christmas, Lugene Bruno who is Assistant Curator of Art at Hunt Institute, contacted me to let me know that my painting was enjoyed by 2 ladies at the Pittsburgh chapter of the American Herb Society. These ladies gather the fruit each year from trees in a locally sponsored herb garden and make medlar jelly. Lugene is kindly sending me one of their precious jars of jelly so that finally I can experience the taste.

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