A Bushel of Pears

It was a long rough summer, and September was the usual rush of back to whatever–meetings and errands and reorganization. As that settles down, I have confronted a bushel of pears.

This is the year that the pear trees I planted in 2015 produced a real crop for the first time. Last year the Comice tree thrilled us with three small green fruit that we picked too early so that they never ripened. This year, like the apple trees in our county, it was loaded. In the spring, to prevent codling moth, we put little socks on the baby fruits, the kind shoe stores give you to protect their shoes from your bare feet. Through the summer, we watched the boughs lower, until my physicist found a few on the ground, half-eaten. It took us about an hour to pick them all into two big grocery bags. And that is a lot of pears for three people.

Pears famously have three stages: rock hard, perfectly ripe for half a day, and rotten. As they ripen, off the tree, over weeks, mercifully not all at once, I have made pie, and brandied upside down cake, and eaten them daily. This week, faced with a bowl of twenty, I got serious and made a 15th century spiced pear sauce I used to love but forgot for twenty years. You cook the pears in ale, put them through a food mill, heat honey with black pepper and stir that in, add white wine and ginger and cinnamon… it’s not something you do with young children in the house. But the fragrance is heaven, and as scents often can, it brought back memories, good ones, of loved projects past.

Next up will be Edna Lewis’s pear preserves with clove, and some simple pear sauce, but first I have to buy more canning jars because I haven’t even mentioned the half bushel of grapes from the Concord vine, or the annual tomato paste and sauce. Some days I do wonder why I do this to myself, but it relaxes me too, and I love rediscovering it all in February when the fruit options in the store thin out. And when things are rough, and it’s hard to concentrate, I need Grace Paley’s Occasional Alternative.

I have been writing too, reading Richard Holmes and Gloria Naylor and re-reading Shirley Jackson, but I think the grape juice may have been my most wonderful finished production this month. The store-bought stuff is a watered-down imposter.

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