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PEARS

Pears

Pears

Russett Beurre Hardy and Williams’ Bon Chretien Pears    Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Russett Beurre Hardy and Williams’ Bon Chretien Pears

Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Pears


Pears, like apples, are uninteresting if all you can taste is sweetness.  A good balance of sweetness, acidity and musk is essential to reveal the pear’s gentle flavours.  It was largely thanks to the passion for fruit and vegetables of Louis XIV of France that Pears reached their high level of appreciation.  Royal patronage oversaw pear production change from difficult-to-manage open orchards to tamed espaliered trees. These allowed for easier and effective control of shelter, warmth, hybridisation and harvesting.  A need to please a King created a passion for pears.  


Although the pear tree, Pyrus communis, is not native to our islands, it has been grown in the UK since at least the 10th century.  Some say they arrived, even earlier, with the Romans.  Pear trees can still be found growing wild in hedgerows.  Improved pear cultivars were brought into the UK from France and Belgium and new varieties then began to be developed here too.  The trees are particularly long-lived and can survive for up to 250 years.  By the 17th century we were grafting pear tree cuttings onto quince rootstock, making it easier to grow pears in our typically wet spring climate.


Records show varieties of pear under cultivation in the UK increased from 64 in 1640 to 622 by 1826.  Today the National Fruit Collection website lists 530 varieties but very few are under commercial cultivation.  Concorde and Conference, and to a lesser extent Williams’ Bon Chretien (called Bartlett in the USA), make up most of the UK’s commercial crop.  The last of these is still known in Berkshire, where it originated, as ‘Stair’s Pear’ in acknowledgment of its original cultivator John Stair, a local schoolmaster, rather than Mr Williams and Mr Bartlett who introduced it to a wider audience and, modestly, named it after themselves.  There’s little chance of finding red-skinned Laxton’s Early Market or russet-skinned Mrs Seden for our customers now, but they could well still be growing in someone’s back garden.


Here at Puntarelle & Co we source English-grown Pears through the autumn months. Varieties include russet-skinned, silky-textured Beurre Hardy and Triumph of Vienna - an old French variety with red flush, russet-patched skin and smooth, juicy white flesh.  We also buy Italian ones like Abate Fetel and buttery, melting, Doyenne du Comice from France.  Beurre Bosc and Beurre d’Anjou are late varieties that are relatively good keepers so we tend to get this type into the New Year.


Pears need to be picked when firm then ripened off the tree, but they store far less well than apples.  Once bought, keep at room temperature until the fruit gives very slightly around the stem, indicating ripeness.  Pears love chocolate and spices like cinnamon and vanilla, and partner well with cheese, particularly a blue like English Stilton or Stichelton, a French Roquefort or Italian Gorgonzola.  


What to do with them: assemble a salad of chicory leaves, sliced pear, blue cheese, walnuts or toasted hazelnuts dressed with a vinaigrette; slice and bake pears in a pastry tart or galette; pickle the sliced fruits with sugar, white wine vinegar, cloves, allspice and nutmeg to serve with roast ham or pork; peel and poach them whole in red or white wine with a little sugar; bake halved, cored pears in a little marsala or maple syrup; use in an ‘upside-down’ cake; or instead of apples for a tarte tatin; then, of course, there is the classic dessert Poire belle Helene – pears, chocolate and ice cream.

Jargonelle Pears growing in an English garden    Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Jargonelle Pears growing in an English garden

Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

APPLES

APPLES

St Edmund’s Pippin Apple    Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands    Apples   The English  Apple  harvest is now fully underway with ever more varieties joining the   Discovery  , which came to our shelves in mid-August.  It’s now that the stone fruits of late summer, ending with dusky Damson plums, give way to northern hemisphere Apples and Pears.    Apples grow well in a temperate climate and English apples are hard to beat.  There are over 2,000 varieties – dessert, cooker and in-betweener.  Sadly, only a tiny number of these are commercially grown.  Flavours and textures vary greatly depending on the variety of apple.  Deep red apples are beautiful to look at and tasty if eaten freshly picked, but it’s the green/brownish-skinned ‘Russet’ family and those streaked green/red that improve with keeping.    For the 4th year running we are buying our seasonal apples and pears from  Foxendown Fruit Farm  in Kent.  We start collecting their harvest of ‘Discovery’ apples in August and finish in late January.  John, the owner of this small family run farm, guides us and helps us choose from his 20 varieties of dessert apple and 3 cooking apples (along with his shorter season pear crop of Triumph of Vienna, Conference and Comice – in now and through October).  This week we have Dessert Apples:    Laxton Fortune  , a Cox/Wealthy apple cross which is juicy, crisp, aromatic and a little sweeter than a Cox’s Orange Pippin, with us through September    Worcester Permain   another early-mid season apple; can have a light strawberry flavour and is picked to the end of September.    St Edmund’s Pippin  , a richly-flavoured Russet apple picked to the end of October    Early Windsor  , a cross between a Cox and a Dr Oldenburg: similar to, and a little earlier than, the Cox’s Orange Pippin and should arrive up to mid-November.  More apples will follow, including those Cooking Apples that need a little longer on the tree.  For the kitchen, it’s hard to beat a Bramley for a classic apple pie or crumble but where less acidic, firm-fleshed apples are needed, reach for varieties like Laxton Fortune, Cox or Russet varieties or the later Braeburn.  All have a good balance of sour and sweet.  Good spices for apples are anise, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla.  Clove too if used sparingly.  A few apples added to a pan of roasting pork together with a few sage leaves is a wonderful thing.  A simple apple puree cooked with dried fruits and cinnamon is a fixture in my kitchen during autumn and winter – so good with yogurt and a spoonful of honey.  A whole baked Bramley, cored, stuffed with dried fruits and a little sugar, is the simplest of desserts.  Just add cream.  Everyone should have a good apple cake recipe.  Replace some of the flour with ground hazelnuts and you won’t be disappointed.  And then, of course, there’s Tarte Tatin!

St Edmund’s Pippin Apple

Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands

Apples

The English Apple harvest is now fully underway with ever more varieties joining the Discovery, which came to our shelves in mid-August.  It’s now that the stone fruits of late summer, ending with dusky Damson plums, give way to northern hemisphere Apples and Pears.  

Apples grow well in a temperate climate and English apples are hard to beat.  There are over 2,000 varieties – dessert, cooker and in-betweener.  Sadly, only a tiny number of these are commercially grown.  Flavours and textures vary greatly depending on the variety of apple.  Deep red apples are beautiful to look at and tasty if eaten freshly picked, but it’s the green/brownish-skinned ‘Russet’ family and those streaked green/red that improve with keeping.  

For the 4th year running we are buying our seasonal apples and pears from Foxendown Fruit Farm in Kent.  We start collecting their harvest of ‘Discovery’ apples in August and finish in late January.  John, the owner of this small family run farm, guides us and helps us choose from his 20 varieties of dessert apple and 3 cooking apples (along with his shorter season pear crop of Triumph of Vienna, Conference and Comice – in now and through October).  This week we have Dessert Apples:

Laxton Fortune, a Cox/Wealthy apple cross which is juicy, crisp, aromatic and a little sweeter than a Cox’s Orange Pippin, with us through September

Worcester Permain another early-mid season apple; can have a light strawberry flavour and is picked to the end of September.

St Edmund’s Pippin, a richly-flavoured Russet apple picked to the end of October

Early Windsor, a cross between a Cox and a Dr Oldenburg: similar to, and a little earlier than, the Cox’s Orange Pippin and should arrive up to mid-November.

More apples will follow, including those Cooking Apples that need a little longer on the tree.

For the kitchen, it’s hard to beat a Bramley for a classic apple pie or crumble but where less acidic, firm-fleshed apples are needed, reach for varieties like Laxton Fortune, Cox or Russet varieties or the later Braeburn.  All have a good balance of sour and sweet.  Good spices for apples are anise, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla.  Clove too if used sparingly.  A few apples added to a pan of roasting pork together with a few sage leaves is a wonderful thing.  A simple apple puree cooked with dried fruits and cinnamon is a fixture in my kitchen during autumn and winter – so good with yogurt and a spoonful of honey.  A whole baked Bramley, cored, stuffed with dried fruits and a little sugar, is the simplest of desserts.  Just add cream.  Everyone should have a good apple cake recipe.  Replace some of the flour with ground hazelnuts and you won’t be disappointed.  And then, of course, there’s Tarte Tatin!