Wednesday, October 20, 2010
One Perfect Pear
The rhythm of the seasons is reflected in the produce available at my favorite farmer's market. Starting with strawberries in June, through the summer's abundant variety of fruits and vegetables, to the pumpkin patch this month. Each visit offers me something new, some delicious treasure I've been waiting for since the year before. The arrival of the first cherries, or the first sweet corn, or the first new crop apples makes me as happy as an eagle sighting.
Some of the produce is from other parts of the state - areas known for the perfection of the conditions for growing orchard fruits in particular. So when I walk into the market so see huge wooden bins in the center, I know I'm in for a treat. Recently one of the bins was full of Bartlett pears - huge hard green knobby things holding nothing more than the promise of sweetness available only to those willing to be patient.
With my hands caressing the new fruit, I traveled back fifty years to my childhood home where Mom would wait eagerly for the truck from Yakima carrying crates of peaches and pears - fruit that couldn't be grown in our short North Idaho summers. I could smell the simple syrup and the pressurized steam and the hot pear perfume created as we canned what would be our winter desserts. I could see her usually stern and angry face softened by the heat and contentment.
I remembered getting to choose one pear from the boxes, which we'd been watching for days to catch the fruit at its perfect point of ripeness. It was not an easy choice. There could be no bruises or green showing - not too ripe or too unripe. I wanted the biggest one I could find. I wanted perfection.
The first bite was always the best. Teeth sinking into flesh that resisted only slightly and then a mouth filled with sweetness that was too much to contain and that flowed down my chin. Not chewing exactly, but pressing the fruit against the roof of my mouth so that the flavor filled my head. Then bite after bite, not waiting to completely swallow the previous mouthful, until their was nothing left but a stem with a clump of seeds hanging from it. And a deep deep almost drunken sense of satisfaction.
In the time between that childhood and now, I found myself living with a group of people who were as self-sufficient as possible as part of our belief system. Canning pears was a different experience shared with three or four other women in a kitchen meant to be common ground but really the territory of the eldest in our midst. We put up enough - not just pears, but peaches, cherries, beans, tomatoes, applesauce - to feed four families and visitors through the winter.
As the newest member, a handmaiden, it was my job to peel the pears just as it had been in childhood, which I didn't mind. In part because it allowed me to quietly choose and set aside one perfect pear for my own enjoyment. Personal pleasure was frowned on, as was anything that wavered from a strict set of rules. But somehow no one ever noticed my claiming that small jewel of delight as we worked in obedience to our calling.
The resident cat, a young marmalade tom, strolled through the market bringing me back into the present and scattering ghosts like so many mice into the fall air.
I don't can any more, haven't for years, so didn't need to ask for crates. The women who were my guides, for better or for worse, are gone from my life now. Mom reduced to a crone-like body in a nursing home conversing with ghosts of her own. My fellow followers gone to lives far from my knowing.
But still there is the power to choose one pear, to bring it home and set it in a place of honor where I can watch it ripen into perfection. And where I can indulge in the singular pleasure of losing myself in the sensory wonder of fragrance and juice and flesh, the experience a spark bright enough to carry me through to next year.
photo from healthmed.com