05 Apr Pears
It is true I am a pirumphile, or lover of pears, as I am reminded by a plastic jug of excellent pear juice I have obtained from a farmer’s market. It is large, a half-gallon, but I cannot guarantee it will last very long, up here in the High Doganate. Fresh, it is very satisfying, but transformed into perry (poiré to you Normans or Angevins) it could become an exquisite mediaeval beverage, and would be among my tipples, were I able to find a source for it near this place and time. It is best as a still pear wine, or cider; please omit the modernist carbonation. Too, it can be distilled into a thoughtful, philosophical brandy. When the world contends that something has gone pear-shaped, I am all ears. Had I more enterprise, I would set out my orchards right away. For as the proverb declares, “Plant pears for your heirs.”
Though close, I would not go so far as to call myself pomaceous, for while my love doth extend to apples, and hath often done to a fine Calvados — and I wilt happily embrace a succulent loquat, a bletted medlar, a fragrant quince — it is capable of finding an ideal contentment in a perfectly ripened pear. All these “pomes,” each in many kinds, were common to Europe, and also to America, in times before the modernist standardization. Now, most industrial apples leave me cold, and some cannot even be redeemed in a maple-syrup deep-dish apple pie.
Or let us dwell briefly on the pert, pear-related rowans (“dogberries” to my far eastern correspondents in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland). These, in their innumerable varieties, were revered in merrie England through past centuries, leading back behind the iconoclast Reformation, yet I doubt any would be recognized in cities today, even were gentle reader and I bombarded with them. We are “urbane,” after all, or as I like to say, “conurban,” for we live not in cities as previously defined but in broad sprawling deletions of the landscape. The extraordinary variety of the world, as presented to the imagination in cookery books from almost anywhere before the Great War, is now beyond memory and perhaps belief. I see the most ignorant things said of our ancestors’ diets, by the believers in “progress” and therefore supermarkets, with their narrow range of strictly branded goods, the same at all locations.
Read Shakespeare — from the Warden Pear in A Winter’s Tale, to the Popperins on which Mercutio suggests obscene play for tragic Romeo:
Now will he sit under a Medler tree,
And wish his Mistresse were that kind of Fruite,
As Maides call Medlers, when they laugh alone, …
Read Chaucer for that matter, by way of recovering an ancient alertness to the scents of a cultivated nature, in times when botanical curiosity had more dimensions. But of course, we have scientific gardeners today, at work preserving the DNA of ages. It is only missing from our everyday lives.
By David Warren, lecturer in religion and literature, St Philip’s Seminary