Apples and pears


A few years ago I played badminton every Monday evening. I loved this weekly leaping around the court, playing sport while laughing. We were all of a roughly similar standard (average to quite good) and none of us took it too seriously. Everyone was supportive and encouraging, there was a healthy rivalry and a lot of teasing. We had great fun.

One evening, one of the chaps bought along a bag of enormous pears from a tree in his garden. He didn’t know what variety it was but it was a heavy cropper. I was one of the lucky recipients of a few of these fruits. They were definitely not to be eaten raw, he said. Peel them, chop them and bake them for an hour or longer in a medium oven, were the instructions. The flesh will turn pink, he said, but that’s good. So I took them home and duly followed his advice. Well! The smell that drifted through the house as the pears baked was amazing. The flesh did indeed turn a gorgeous pink and I have to say that they were quite possibly the most divine pears I have ever tasted. Fragrant, the perfect combination of sweet and acidic, melt-in-the-mouth-delicious. Sadly, I moved away before the next pear harvest but, ever since, I’ve been trying to find out what variety these pears might have been and get my hands on some more. I look for large pears at markets and keep an eye out for anything resembling them. But no luck. Until this weekend…

We went along to the annual Apple Festival at Brogdale (home of the National Fruit Collection near Faversham) on Sunday morning. Apples, hundreds of varieties of apples, lined tables and benches in a barn, all labelled with lovely names like ‘Coo’s River Beauty’ and others that seemed completely made-up, like ‘Vlaanderens Roem Rode Boskoop’. There were also a few pears but no big cookers. I asked one of the guys behind the counter whether he knew about pears – he didn’t but he pointed us towards a portakabin and said there were a couple of people inside who did.

These people turned out to be Jim Arbury, fruit expert at the RHS, and  Joan Morgan, pomologist (yes, that is a word) and author of The Book of Apples and the highly acclaimed The Book of Pears. We had a nice chat about my mystery pear and they both agreed that it is probably an old cooking variety called ‘Catillac’. Sometimes also known as Pound Pears, because they’re so big – some weighing in at 1lb or over – they cannot be eaten raw and keep well because they remain hard until you cook them.

I might not have managed to get hold of any of the actual pears, but a ‘Catillac’ tree is now top of our wish-list and there are fabulous cooking pears in my future! This tree is a triploid so we will need two other pear trees for it to pollinate. We already have one, which I think is ‘Conference’, but we’ll need another. Any suggestions?

In other news… Life continues to whizz by at an alarming speed. It’s half term next week and we’re off to the Lake District for a week of blowing away the cobwebs, long walks in the fells and hearty pub dinners. I can’t wait. Have a good week.