Friday, July 07, 2006

forgotten fruits

I've been coveting the neighbors' nespolo for months, every time I peer over the garden wall into their abandoned yard. They visit every few weeks to mow the sad lawn, but leave their apartments empty and their gardens to the prowling neighborhood cats: the massive tiger-striped Theo and his girlfriend, the white and black one that lounges on the opposite roof, the black hulk that appears every so often to pee on my oregano and thyme. I need to find a cat-bane herb to keep them from entirely killing my garden.

The nespolo goes on, blissfully undisturbed, producing metric tons of its tiny yellow fruits. The tree is thick with big silvery leaves, and the nespoli look something like apricots with an exaggerated blossom scar. I considered them inedible until I finally researched what they are -- medlars.
Medlars, it turns out, don't reach their peak until after the first frost, like the native persimmons my brothers and I hunted as kids in North Carolina. They turn wrinkly and brown, and only then does the flesh inside turn sweet, which is why they lend themselves to metaphors like Chaucer's:

This white top writeth myne olde yeris;
Myn herte is also mowled as myne heris,
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;
This white head reveals my old years;
My heart is as moldy as my hairs,
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;
(From the Reeve's Tale: 3869-3875)

After the neighbors' last visit I found my garden littered with trash they'd tossed over the wall. I interpreted this as an act of war. I'm planning a midnight raid sometime this fall, after the first frost.

In the meantime, my pomegranate has gone from blossom to fruit in a few short weeks.


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