First Pears, Last Tears
Eternal Summer of the Bosc-less Mind
Article & Photos by Aaron Gilbreath
While picking Italian plums in a friend’s North Portland backyard recently, I angered some yellow jackets, climbed up a light pole, and eating the fruit as I picked instead of sorting and washing, I ingested part of what might have been insect larvae. Besides the rain and increasing cloud cover, the last urban plums provided one more sign that summer was over.
Remember summer?I don’t have a problem with change. Although the end of things can make me sentimental sometimes – the end of romance, the end of a vacation – I don’t wallow in it. But for some reason, this year the end of summer really hit me hard. Why can’t we Portlanders live the golden dream referenced in that surf movie Endless Summer? I like pants as much as shorts, but do I really have to fish out my beanie already? As many wise people have said in numerous ways over the millennia, the end of one thing is the start of another thing, or something – close a door, open a window, etcetera – so I’m trying to remember that. Example A: the dwindling of peaches means the arrival of pears.
The markets have tons of pears right now. There are the bright, flavorful Starkrimson, and the tiny, super sweet Seckel. There’s the bodacious, curvy Comice, the variety which pairs so well with soft cheeses and that I always imagined would wear booty short were it bipedal (you’ve heard the term “apple bottom?”). There’s the aromatic red Anjou, so juicy and crisp and nice on a salad that I’ve actually woken up some mornings thinking of their taste. And there’s the boring old Bosc which I think of as a tree potato.
Despite my disdain for Boscs, I will eat any pear, but my love is not equal. (Will that make me a bad parent?) Starkrimson is one of my favorites. They have a floral aroma, and their smooth flesh contrasts nicely with their firm skin. They also just look gorgeous. That luscious red exterior is beautiful. Another favorite is the Forelle.
Not to try to be eccentric or feel superior to the uninitiated (my teenage self: “What? You haven’t heard this obscure 7-inch from this obscure band?”), but a few of the varieties that I think have the best flavors also aren’t the most widely available. Forelles are sort of the Northwest’s “secret” pear, which is unfortunate because they’re so good they should be dangling off trees in the middle of every American city. (Seriously, why is the Bosc the ubiquitous pear? Then again, why is white bread so popular?) For whatever reason – probably narrow growing requirements, poor insect or frost resistance, tendency to bruise in transport, and so on – their production is one of the most limited in the Northwest. Thankfully, you can find them around town between October and March.
Forelles are an old variety from Germany. Their name translates as trout, referring, mostly likely, to the way the pear’s freckled skin resembles that of a Rainbow trout’s. Forelles are tiny. They don’t have the Bartlett’s classic pear shape; they’re more of a bell. And their flavor is just what the pear snob in me wants in a pear: elegance, fragrance and texture without being too sweet. Maybe all I’m saying is is that there’s life beyond Bartletts. Just as I have to remind myself that there is life after summer and fruit
After an hour of picking in my friend’s backyard, I filled two plastic grocery bags with Italian plums. I considered turning them into jam, but I’m currently dedicated to marionberry jam, so I just ate them fresh. Also, it was obvious what I really wanted: to preserve the fruit in jars in order to prolong the season that produced them, the season I always tell myself that I love best. Then fall arrives and I remember, oh yeah, around here, every season’s good. Sunlight’s overrated.
Aaron Gilbreath is a burrito devotee who constantly corrects my word usage. Understandably so, he has written for places like the New York Times, Paris Review, Gastronomica, Portland Mercury, and Alimentum. Find him at http://aarongilbreath.wordpress.com/
Charming meditation on fruit–a favorite topic of mine. And those Italian plums–or, as I understand it, more correctlly called Italian prune plums (go figure)–are another NW specialty, it seems. Lucky us. If you have any left, you can make chutney with them. But eww, chutney.
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