Saturday, 10 September 2016

The Open-Arse Tree

Y'all know how fond I am of trees. Well here's my new favourite: the Open-Arse.

Can you see where it got its name? Picture from Wikipedia

Technically it's the Medlar (Mespilus germanica), which ticks every box for being a European native with a long British history, a  really weird fruit tree, and possessing a filthy folklore. "Open-arse" was its original folk name.

It was really common and really popular back in the Middle Ages, as medlar fruits were some of the few available to consume during winter. That's because you can eat them only after they've started to decay.

Yummy! (pic from Wikipedia)
They'll rot on the branches, after the first frost (it's called "bletting") or you can store them in straw and let them rot at their leisure.

Due to its strange appearance and pungent squishiness, medlar fruit was associated with the female genitals - and also became a metaphor for premature decay, as in the Prologue of Chaucer's The Reeve's Tale:

But if I fare as dooth an open-ers --
That ilke fruyt is ever lenger the wers,
Til it be roten in mullok or in stree.
We olde men, I drede, so fare we:
Til we be roten, kan we nat be rype
(Unless I fare as does the fruit of the medlar --
That same fruit continually grows worse,  
Until it is rotten in rubbish or in straw.
We old men, I fear, fare like that:
Until we are rotten, we can not be ripe)

Shakespeare uses the fruit's repulsive/bawdy connotation:

 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 pop'rin pear!  
(Romeo and Juliet)

By his time the word "Medlar" had become specifically a symbol and slang term for a prostitute: sweet and desirable but 'rotten on the inside' and old before her time. 
Lucio.   I was once before him for getting a wench with child.
Duke.   Did you such a thing?
Lucio.   Yes, marry, did I; but I was fain to forswear it: they would else have married me to the rotten medlar.
(Measure for Measure)

The misogyny reaches its succinct apex in The Honest Whore by Thomas Dekker:

"Women are like medlars, no sooner ripe but rotten"

I feel an overpowering urge to plant some :-)

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