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Pear shaped

"A good ripe pear, so ambrosial in the mouth - juicy yet curiously granular, with its complex floral flavours - is a thing of beauty. So if you catch one at that point of perfect, fragrant ripeness, just sit down and eat it right away, letting its perfumed liquor trickle down your chin."

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Above are my inspirations for today's post. The first is this week's painting from my Charley Harper diary which he calls Condominium. I instantly thought of pears, and in particular a wooden pear that one of my sons - I think the older one - made, when quite young in a woodworking class. I love it - the way the grain of the wood curves around the shape. I suppose it's a bit phallic now that I look at it, but anyway it's rather beautiful to me anyway.

Of course, the Charley Harper pears, could also be lightbulbs I guess, something perhaps hinted at by the white moon. Anyway I loved it at first sight. I think it was the shapes, the precision and neatness of it all and the colours. He is such a precise painter that I have done him an injustice with my scan in that it is ever so slightly wonky. His original is absolutely straight. It also has a slightly Halloween feel to it. Perhaps I am thinking that because Halloween approaches and it seems the neighbours (and my grandchildren) are already preparing for it.

Witness this house entrance that I photographed on this morning's walk. And I suppose that the birds in the painting, and that moon give it a slightly sinister feel and perhaps the pear shapes hint at sculpted pumpkins. Not that pears have a particular connection with Halloween, though I did find this quote which had eerie aspects to it:

"Slice a pear and you will find that its flesh is incandescent white. It glows with inner light. Those who carry a knife and a pear are never afraid of the dark." Yann Martel

Also there is that phrase "It's all gone pear shaped", which means that everything has gone wrong. Curious - because when you go to Google images and type in 'pear shaped' what you get is a whole lot of pictures of shapely women with broadish hips - presented as an ideal that is, not as something that has gone horribly wrong. There seem to be lots of specific origin stories for this phrase, from the shape of graphs to RAF pilots not being able to perform a perfect manoeuvre - but basically they are all to do with trying to make a circle and failing. Not quite pear shaped I would think, particular long thin ones like Beurre Bosc but I guess it will do as an explanation.

Felicity Cloake feared that pears were going to disappear from the shops, and for a while there I worried too. I heard tales of farmers ploughing them into the ground because they wouldn't sell - they do generally tend to be pretty cheap, which suggests oversupply - but I think they might be making a bit of a comeback. Back when I was worrying about their disappearance you would only be able to get Williams Pears, but these days there is a much wider choice.

Not that you get to choose from the 3000 or so varieties that exist, If you are lucky there might be three or four.

According to Jane Grigson, in seventeenth century France pears were a very fashionable thing, thanks to Louis XIV and his gardener, de la Quintinie. It was at about this time too that they discovered the technique of espaliering the pears - growing them flat against a wall or a trellis.

"In open orchards the fruit was blown about, and ripened unevenly. With espalier trees, the whole business could be effectively controlled, with shelter, warmth, and attention." Jane Grigson

I'm not sure that they are grown that way here, but it is certainly a popular way of growing fruit in England, probably because there is not as much sun, and this way gives the fruit a better chance of getting it.

The main problem appears to be that a pear has a very short moment of perfection - like bananas. And so they don't get eaten raw, like apples very much.

"There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat." Ralph Waldo Emerson

Because of this pears are picked underripe. Which according to Hugh Fearnley- Whittingstall is fine because unlike most fruit they are best ripened off the tree and he recommends picking them underripe even if you grow your own. The rather lovely picture at right is of pears ripening on a windowsill, in his River Cottage A-Z book. Commercial growers may, however, pick them far too underripe - well they want to be able to get them to market safely but Fearnley-Whittingstall says that:

"They'll never ripen properly and instead go from crisp to pulpy without ever having their magic moment."

I don't think the pears we get here are quite as bad as that, but I have to say that they are not as popular as apples. Indeed George Carlin (whoever he is) claimed that "A pear is a failed apple." Which is just not true. For pears are maybe even better cooked. There are hundreds and hundreds of recipes for pears and I'm not going to go into that here, suffice to say, that those that I have tried are absolutely delicious and, when I think about, amongst my favourite desserts. And if they are really too mushy then make a smoothie or a sorbet. These days they are also very trendy in salads - often with nuts and cheese. Particularly blue cheeses like Roquefort and Stilton. And speaking of Stilton I will give you just one quick recipe from Jane Grigson.


Toast two small slices of white bread per person. Cut away crusts. Top them with watercress, then slices of Doyenné du Comice, and shavings of Stilton cheese. Put into an ovenproof serving dish and bake in a moderate oven for about 5 minutes, until the cheese starts to melt. Grind over plenty of pepper. Refreshing and sharp and crisp.

So many things you can do with cheese and toast.!

And do you remember pear drops? Do they still have them?

"Pear Drops were exciting because they had a dangerous taste. All of us were warned against eating them, and the result was that we ate them more than ever." Roald Dahl

Perhaps they are a Halloween thing after all.


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