Eastside Road, September 5, 2015—CANNED FRUIT COCKTAIL was, I regret to say, among the highlights of my dining experiences as a boy. As I recall, it involved peaches, pears, pineapple, and the occasional "Maraschino" cherry. I liked the cherry, of course: it was exotic, brightly colored, and rare. More than them, though, secretly, it was the pears I liked.
I'm sure they were Bartletts, and they may well have come, many of them, from not that far north of here: Mendocino county, near Ukiah. Just the other day we drove past a big orchard of them, and there were still many pears hanging on the trees, probably a second crop it hadn't paid to bother with.
Other orchards can be seen easily from the highway north of Ashland, where Harry and David made their reputation on them. The Bartlett is an early pear and a good producer, a natural for commerce.
But I've always thought of the pear as the quintessentially French fruit, and we've always been partial to winter pears with French names: the d'Anjou, the Comice, above all the Duchesse d'Angoulème. When we settled here on Eastside Road a number of years ago we planted quite a few pear trees. The Seckels are favorites, partly because our tree is so productive, and the fruit is early, and unlike most pears you can eat them from the tree. (Many pears need to be picked before they're ripe, and seasoned in cold storage.)
Most of our pear trees — well, four of them anyway: Seckel, Bosc, Winter Nellis, and Red Bartlett — line the driveway well below our house. But two others are in Cook's Folly, the little hedge-bound formal garden of ornamentals punctuated by pairs of fruit trees: Yellow Transparent and Santa Rosa plum; Flavor King Pluot and Mirabelle plum (the latter deceased and replaced with I forget what), a nectarine and a peach whose names escape me at the moment, and two marvelous pears, a Comice and a Duchesse d'Angoulème. The Duchesse is particularly productive: a dwarf tree hardly seven feet tall, it regularly gives us boxes and boxes of fruit. Last year I sold fifty pounds of pears from it, and kept that many and more for us.
This year is an early one; autumn has well set in; the Duchesse is dropping an awful lot of fruit. Cook already has far more than she can deal with, but she peeled and sliced these, and poached them with a little vanilla in a sugar syrup, and they made a delicious dessert after a typical Saturday post-farm-market dinner of Napolitano sausage from Franco, lima beans from Middleton Gardens, and sliced tomatoes from Lou Preston and the neighbor. These are the days of wine and pears.
Zinfandel, Preston of Dry Creek, 2013☛Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants