Doyenne de Comice

It must have been forty or fifty years ago that some wise and benevolent person planted the pear tree in the back garden of this house.  Now, it is mature and beautifully shapely.  Each year with remarkable reliability it produces a crop of enormous pears.  I’ve never seen such beauties in any shop: the largest weigh in at just over a pound.

In fact one can follow their progress through most of the year – from the flaunting, shamelessly bridal blossom in early April with its attendant bees; the tiny early nubs of pears; the ‘June drop’ that clears out the excess; through the jaw-dropping gradual summer expansion of individuals into the grandees of October.  They hang, massive as chokoes as we watch and wait for them to be ready.  October this year has been still – golden and sunny – night frosts have turned the birch leaves a more intense yellow than usual and the whole garden glows with the reflected light.  The pears still hang in large numbers like great pendulous Christmas decorations.

 I’ve already been picking the ones on the lower branches, to ripen indoors and give away by the bagful to friends and family before they can be spoiled.  On the other side of the garden wall in the carpark the lower branches have been emptied for the first time, I suppose by our neighbours.  Some change in perception must have taken place, and I’m glad to see it, as now, finally, the wind will start to bring them down, ready or not.  The race is on to use as many as possible before that can happen.  So many are way up high – out of reach even when I climb up the stepladder and stretch dangerously into the tree.  The branches – even the smaller ones – are stiff and brittle, grey and knobbly.  They resist being pulled down to make the high pears reachable.  When the sky greys and cold winds begin to blow through the end of October the pears still unpicked begin to crash to the ground.  Some fallings land softly in the juniper bush or in the hosta – yellow-leafed now in its tub – or snag in the weigela, bulbous yellow fruit beside the few, late, magenta flowers.  These survive quite well.  The ones that hit the window box or land on the corrugated plastic of the shed roof are a little bruised, and I bring them in to cook.  Even so, many impact with a smash on the patio, or on the garden chairs, or are sliced open on the brick wall, while the wind carries others ten yards away, down the garden and across the carpark.  Always there are far more pears than we can possibly imagine using; always this prodigy feels embarrassingly wasteful. 

Even the sound ones don’t keep for long.  For weeks they sit ripening in the kitchen – a crunchy delight to eat – then there comes one day (not yet – but soon) when the last and best are like manna: magical and perfect.  We eat them with care but still the juice flows everywhere – over chin, hands, elbows even.  And then, even more quickly, they are over, and good for nothing but compost.

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