November 9, 2013
Or, phonetics are us. Because, these pear preserves? These are good to the point that Sweet, as in Sweet Baby Jesus, HAS to be two syllables.
Because, you see, these pear preserves are all tied up in who I am and where I grew up, not to mention they are Just Damn Fine with scrambled eggs and hot biscuits and some bacon.
When I was a kid, as regular readers may recall, we lived out in the country. Not on a farm, because it wasn’t big enough to be a farm, but on what, in the local vernacular, was a “place.” A “place” being a homestead out in the country with a few acres, enough for a big yard, a big garden, a truck patch, and maybe a few acres of pasture.
And fruit trees.
We ALWAYS had fruit trees. The first ones I remember were on the north side of the dog pen, where Daddy kept his bird dogs. There was a cherry tree, and an apple tree, and a pear tree. The cherries were sour “pie cherries.” The first time I ever came across sweet cherries, I made myself sick eating them. But I digress.
A few years later, the dog pen was superseded by the the barn lot and the pasture fence, and new fruit trees got planted in front of the barn. Later still, the garden got moved down to where the truck patch used to be, which before that was the pasture, and more fruit trees got planted where the upper end of the garden used to be.
The pear tree made it through both of the last two iterations of landscape architecture. And I’m not certain how, because it seemed like at least every other year, Mama and Daddy were having to prop branches up with boards and poles, because that little old tree would bear so freakin’ many pears its branches wouldn’t stand up to them.
So. Fast forward 20-plus years. I was home for a quick weekend last month. In conversation, my stepmother mentioned the pear tree didn’t bear this year. Not unusual, as it’s a 30-year-old tree, and they frequently take a year off to rest and recuperate. But the next morning, when I moved my car to the other driveway so she could leave for church, I glanced down toward the pasture and the pear tree.
Where I saw, amid the green, a gleam of gold.
Two branches of the pear tree, and two branches only, had indeed borne pears. Maybe that’s all the bees there were to pollinate it.
So, it being mid-October, I betook myself down to inspect the pear tree. There were a number of pears on the ground. I picked up four or five which had no bad spots. Tentatively, I reached up, grabbed a branch tip, tugged and shook. Pears rained. I picked up more. stretching the bottom of my oversized t-shirt to make a basket. Moved to the other branch, braved a small jump to grab the tip (I have a vertical leap of about three inches, if you wondered)(OK, maybe two inches) and shook again. More pears rained, including one which clipped me on the side of the head, nearly removing my ear.
I picked up all the pears I could fit in my T-shirt bottom, headed for the house, put those on the counter, and scored me a couple of WalMart sacks. With those, I collected another dozen or so pears. All told, I had 10-12 pounds of Bartlett pears the size of softballs, and approximately that hardness (a ripe Bartlett doesn’t soften until it’s been off the tree a few days).
Packed the pears back home that evening and stowed them in the fridge out in the storage room until I could get to them. Which wound up being this past weekend, two weeks after their collection. I had to discard half a dozen of them that, when I cut them in half, were brown all the way through; the others had brown spots I cut out. All told, my 12 or so pounds of pears yielded me five pounds of cut-up, peeled and cored pear slices (what my mama would have called “worked-up” pears). I weighed ’em on my handy-dandy kitchen scale because I needed their weight to calculate how much sugar to put on them — it’s a 3:1 pear:sugar ratio.
So on the five pounds of worked-up pears, I dumped a pound and two-thirds of sugar, and let that sit until the moisture from the pears got happy with the sugar and made a nice syrup, about four hours. Then I put the whole thing on a medium burner and let it cook for a couple of hours, until the syrup started to thicken a bit.
That, in turn, resulted in five half-pints of pear preserves, which simmered in their jars in a water-bath canner for 20 minutes before being set out to seal on a dishtowel, plus a little dib that went in the fridge. And THAT, friends and neighbors, went on my breakfast plate the next morning, with bacon and scrambled eggs and biscuits for which I willfully leapt off the gluten-free wagon because? Some things are just worth it. I’ll be good this week.
Because, you see, my Daddy, God rest his soul, had for breakfast every morning of his almost 80 years scrambled eggs, bacon or sausage, toast or biscuits, and blackberry jam or pear preserves, which he ate, not with his biscuit, but with his eggs as a relish. Well, except on Sundays, when he had cereal, because everyone was busy getting ready for church.
People. Can I just tell you that the juxtaposition of candied pears with buttery scrambled eggs is one of the most sublime taste experiences known to modern man? I mean, it’s just…astonishing. The texture of the chewy pear against the silky soft egg; the taste of the sweet-tart fruity syrup against the salty buttery taste of egg accented with the peppery punch of truffle oil… all punctuated by the crispy snap of good bacon and a pillowy biscuit to mop up whatever’s left on the plate.
Dear Sweet Baby Jesus.
I am not promising I will share any of these with you ‘n y’mama ‘n ’em, because there are only five half-pints to do me all year. But next year, God willing and the creek don’t rise, we will journey to Camden, TN, in mid-October in the hopes that the rested pear tree is in full swing again, and we will bring home two or three bushels of pears, which you and y’mama ‘n ’em can help me work up and can and we can ALL have pear preserves.
A worthy resolution for 2014.