Sunday, September 6, 2015

Duchesse d'Angoulème

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


George Mattingly said...

You've got me salivating for pears — none of which are to be found in the kitchen right now. Canned fruit cocktail was the Big Treat in our family when I was little as well. A treat of which my mom didn't approve, so it was on camping trips with my dad that I mostly got to enjoy it. His way of making up (a little) for his punishment-meting role (accomplished mainly with his belt). But back to pears, which have just gone onto the Monterey Market shopping list: mmmmm: a perfect fruit even when not summoning memories.

louann said...

Just returned from a trip through fire trauma in Washington, Idaho, and Montana - and unbelievably bad air all the way going north - but rains that were not in the forecast cleared the quality so rapidly that my son, daughter in law and I were able to complete the trip without turning around - they were the heavy lifters on this drive so I only weighed in to stop occasionally at rural produce stands. Looking for apples especially, and pears which I appreciate more at this age. Didn't find much at all - disappointing but I think we were a bit early for the northern regions. There is a pear preserve that I've made for some years now from a 70s cookbook I'm too lazy to look for right now - very little sugar, vanilla, lemon, and many many pears - one of my all time favorites. I've made it for years. I'm not sure what makes pears so special - there is something quite subtle going on with the flavor that I'm not equipped to describe. My son Daniel however has named his band Pear, and planted a pear tree in his Oakland yard - so it is something shared across our own generations.