English Exotics

Supermarkets are full of imported exotics but we’ve lost touch with some fabulous traditional English fruits…

The Medlar & True Service tree are still planted as ornamentals as they’re beautiful and easy to grow. But they also effortlessly bear lots of fruit in late autumn which is commonly ignored because, counter-intuitively, it’s unpalatable when it looks ripe, but delicious when over-ripe or ‘bletted‘.

The True Service Tree – Sorbus domestica.

Confusion may arise from it being known by far too many names …

Various tree names Various fruit names
True Service tree Aleys
Service tree Service-berries
Whitty Pear Sorb-apples
Domestic Mountain Ash Sorbs
Malformis Sorbus Service-apples
Sorb tree

Comparison of True Service (Sorbus domestica) fruit at St Ann's Hospital N15The best place to see true service trees is in the grounds of St Ann’s Hospital, N15 3TH.  In 2010 a few of us compared their fruit – here are the results:

  Map of True Service (Sorbus domestica) fruit at St Ann's Hospital N15making sorb syrup

They’re easy to grow from seed, and the concentrated juice of the ripe fruit makes a very nice syrup:




The Medlar – Mespilus germanica

The most impressive medlar I’ve seen is in St James Park.
The medlar (Mespilus germanica, Rosaceae) from antiquity to obscurity’ John R. Baird, John W. Thieret 1989:
..the medlar has a history spanning possibly 30 centuries. In antiquity it may have been grown by the Assyrians and Babylonians; the Greeks and Romans knew it.
The medlar was well known in Europe during the Middle Ages, where it is said to have held a high place among cultivated fruits. Today in Europe it is passing into obscurity. Though very generally cultivated in England in the 1600s and 1700s and “‘common in [English] gardens in the south” even in the 1800s (the fruits regularly brought to market), it was recently characterized as “neglected and forgotten” and “difficult to locate” there. In continental Europe, too, its increasing rarity has been noted, the fruit being “of no more interest”

There’s a large one near Kenwood House, and quite a few community garden projects have planted them recently. Let me know of any others you’d like listed (info@urbanharvest.org.uk)

Relationships to similarly named fruit

Exotic English fruit relationships

Interesting links:

Just came across this incredibly appropriate posting about Sorbs & Medlars: http://laudatortemporisacti.blogspot.co.uk/2009/08/sorbs-and-medlars.html
which includes a dreadful poem by D.H. Lawrence called ‘Medlars and Sorb-Apples‘!

 Other exotic treats to look out for:

  • Wild Service Tree
  • Quince
  • Loquat
  • Gingko


On Sat 27 Oct 2012 from 1 – 2pm we’ll chat about

  • what they are
  • what they’re confused with
  • where to find them
  • when to pick them
  • how to eat them
  • how to get more of them into London!

We’re meeting chez Dick, who’s made some exotic concoctions. It seems a bit rude for me to invite unlimited people to turn up to his house, so if you phone/text me for the address I’ll know how many are coming. Nr corner of Wightman Rd & Hewitt Rd N8. There are parking restrictions, so public transport may be best.

Please bring any other undervalued or neglected fruits you’d like to champion, and of course fruity flavoured snacks & concoctions are most welcome.
I have some young True Service trees grown from seed – let me know if you’d like one.

Then you’re free to go off and see the trees themselves!
Locations below.
Gemma (078 06 87 05 05)