Precious Pears

There are only 10 minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat. Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Harvest season is upon us here on the farm.

While my farming men are busy bringing in the grain, my own focus is on the bounty given to me by nature and the foresight of our pioneer ancestors.

This week the pears are ready to pick and preserve.

Bounty from the past.

When pioneering families settled their farms here in Garston 120 years ago, the land was devoid of trees. Grass, tussock and rocks were the main features of the narrow, river valley they would come to call home. Mountains lining both sides of the valley kept it freezing in winter and scorching in summer. Food was scarce, and largely home-grown. The top priority was establishing a large vegetable garden beside a small, rough farmhouse. And next on the list was always planting the orchard.

For many years orchards small and large were lovingly tended up and down the valley, but with the advent of sealed roads, speedy cars and modern supermarkets, the orchards have become overgrown and neglected in modern times. All the same, the sturdiest trees persist and each autumn they dot the valley with fragrant fruit for us to pick and be thankful for.

Harvest in the present.

So it is, that this week I’m harvesting the pears. It’s not as easy as you might think.

Sometimes the season is poor and there is scarcely a fruit to be seen, but this year there’s an abundance of pears on every tree. There are also birds, who can savour the best fruit on the highest branches which are impossible for me to reach. Not content with their share, however, they like to invade my territory on the branches below as well. They don’t eat the whole fruit: oh no! They would rather sample, leave a small hole, and move on to try the pear next door as well.

And then, we have the wind. Autumn can be a windy season around here, and this year is no exception. Many of the pears end up on the ground before they are ripe. These windfalls are often the ones I collect. They are easy to reach, and being still quite firm, have not taken any harm from their fall. However, danger lurks below. There’s a wasp nest somewhere around the orchard and the wasps begin feasting long before I arrive. They go for the half-rotten fruit, preferably already holed by the birds. So I tread very carefully under the trees, and restrict my haul to the unripe pears, preferably well away from the busy wasps.

The windfall pears are poles apart from Emerson’s perfect 10 minutes, and unfortunately they are most unlikely to reach that happy state. No matter how carefully I store them or what ripening tricks I try, many end up going bad before they’re ripe enough to eat. But I’m ever hopeful.

Pears and bananas in a paper bag to ripen
Apparently bananas and apples emit ethylene which will help to ripen, or at least soften the fruit.

Pears are a-cooking for the future.

Fortunately cooking will save the day. Poaching the pears in a sweet and delicious liquid will add flavour and soften the unripe fruit. I don’t have the time, skills (or quite frankly the inclination) to spend hours this week preserving multiple jars of fruit. I’ve tried it before and failed miserably every time.  So now I pick a little every day, and while the evening meal is cooking it’s often joined by a pot of pears bubbling gently on the stove. To preserve them, I’ll simply portion the cold pears into containers with the syrup and freeze.

Ripe pears are cooked in a matter of minutes. I don’t trust these to the cooktop: they go into the microwave, with a little maple syrup, a knob of butter, cinnamon, vanilla essence and lemon juice for just a few minutes. They form their own delicious juice and taste exquisite. I’ve just finished cooking up the latest batch that did manage to ripen, (with bad patches removed.)  I can’t wait to serve them up for dessert tonight.

But most will not be so ripe, so here’s how I’ll treat the main crop of windfall pears.

Pears poaching in a pot.
Pears in their sweet poaching liquid.

Simple Sweet’n’spicy Poached Pears

8-12 unripe or firm pears            4-5 tbsp brown sugar or coconut sugar                

1-2 tsp ground cinnamon            1 lemon

Water                                                     Raisins or sultanas (optional)

What to do:

  1. Cut the pears into quarters, discarding core and stem. There is no need to peel.
  2. Put them into a deep saucepan on the stove (cooktop).
  3. Finely grate the lemon rind.
  4. Juice the lemon. (Use a lemon juicer to get as much as possible.)
  5. Add these to the pot.
  6. Sprinkle sugar and cinnamon into the pot and add water until the pears are almost covered.
  7. Cover and bring to the boil.
  8. Simmer gently until the pears are soft but not falling apart. This could take 20 – 30 minutes, or even longer depending on the size of the pieces and the temperature of the cooking liquid. Slow is best.
  9. Once cooked, add a handful of raisins or sultanas if desired. Leave everything to cool in the pot. The pears will increase in sweetness and the dried fruit will plump up and add more flavour.

To serve:

I love these pears with maple-walnut ice cream. The walnut flavour goes so well with pears, but really any ice cream would be nice. Sometimes I add an extra topping of chopped, toasted walnuts. Cover the pears and ice cream with spoonfuls of the hot cooking syrup.

To download this recipe as a PDF click the link below.

Simple Sweet’n’Spicy Poached Pears PDF

There’s something deeply satisfying about eating food you’ve gathered and cooked yourself. It hearkens back to our hunter-gatherer roots perhaps? Or maybe  nostalgically to what we think of as a simpler time.

What are your thoughts? 

Want to read more about harvesting on the farm?  Read Part 1 of this series, Mushrooms Galore.

2 Replies to “Precious Pears”

  1. I enjoyed your article about the pears and harvesting in general. One of the most attractive qualities of the farming life is the simplicity. (Note: I did not say it is easy, only that it is relatively simple in comparison with the fast pace of life in big cities.)

    I recall stories of my family’s farm in Missouri, one of the Midwestern states of the US. When my father was a young boy, their family farm was largely self-sufficient – a way of life that is almost lost to us today. They had a huge vegetable garden and canned many vegetables. Potatoes and onions were stored in the cellar under the house – reached through a trapdoor in the pantry. They butchered and canned meat from hogs. (Refrigeration in those days was fairly primitive.) My father remembered carrying buckets of boiling water from the wood-burning kitchen stove to the barn when they were butchering. They had a separate small building just for smoking and salting meat. They had chickens for eggs and meat. A couple of dairy cows provided milk and cream so, of course, they churned their own butter. They raised corn and wheat and took the wheat to town to be ground so they could bake their own bread. Cherry trees and grape vines provided jellies for use throughout the year. Except for coffee, salt, and sugar, they lived almost entirely on what their farm produced.

    I wouldn’t want to give up our modern conveniences and all the wonders that our digital technology has made available but I can remember and tell my son tales about life on his great-grandfather’s farm, back when they still used mules instead of tractors. Maybe we can preserve some of the best parts of the slower, simpler life.

    1. Hi Randy, thanks so much for your comment. Your father’s farm sounds very much like our farm was in past times. This farm has been in our family since the early settlers arrived in the valley, and our children are the 5th generation on the farm. I am planning to write a series of articles about life on the farm as it used to be, as well as more about how we live and work now. I am also interviewing some of our local historians with a view to writing more about the fascinating history of the area, so I hope you enjoy reading those too.
      The apples and walnuts are close to ripening now, and the grain harvest is in full swing, so look out for more posts in my harvest series.

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