Apples and pears

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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.

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21 thoughts on “Apples and pears

  1. What a lovely seasonal story. I’ve a suspicion I now know why our odd couple of pear trees don’t fruit well. Good luck finding a third pear. Enjoy your time off in the beautiful Lake District!

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  2. Such a lovely time of year with all the apples and pears available. It’s good just to go into supermarkets and buy bags of British apples which taste delicious. Hope you manage to get your pear tree. The cooked fruit sounds wonderful. B X

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  3. When we lived in Bristol we inherited two old pear trees that were originally part of an orchard (each one of the row of houses had several fruit trees in the garden). Both were really productive, and I used to bottle loads of them in red wine and spices. They were so delicious, and I’ve never managed to recreate that experience. Doesn’t stop me trying though!

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  4. Such a lovely story!
    I have a similar experience of (what I remember as) a stunning eating apple, the size of a cocker, which grew in the garden of an ex boyfriend when I was still at school over 30 years ago. I still think of both the apple and the boyfriend fondly and wonder about knocking on the door at apple time.
    I know the boyfriend’s moved on, but perhaps the apple would still be there!

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  5. I would love to have gone to Brogdale for the apple festival (we had a fantastic allotment visit to Brogdale a few years ago and I really should visit again while Canterbury is on my radar). Jim Arbury is a legend. He came to our Commoner’s Day when we had an apple theme and I was in awe of his ID skills. I grow Fondante d’Automne which is small, rough skinned and not very productive although absolutely delicious at peak ripeness. I think my favourite way of eating pears is in Poire Belle Helene – poached pears with the best vanilla ice cream and the silkiest chocolate sauce – and your culinary pear sounds ideal for this recipe. BTW I’m really enjoying Joan’s Book of Apples, it is a visual treat as well as packed with information. I may have to go to Wisley soon to see if the library has her Book of Pears and also to see if “Catillac” is growing in the orchard. Have a wonderful half term Sam – I do miss the half term holidays with the children!

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  6. I’m very envious of your trip to Brogdale, I’m a bit obsessed with apples. I’m not sure about pollination groups, but I have a beurre hardy pear and a doyenne du comice, both absolutely delicious. The beurre hardy pears are quite round and very heavy. I’m still waiting to pick them at the moment, whereas the comices have just about come to an end. They are both in the same pollination group, and I’ve got a feeling they would work with a conference but you would need to check to be sure. I shall look forward to seeing your new tree when you find it. CJ xx

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  7. I, too, am envious of your trip to Brogdale! I never used to be a ‘fruity’ person, but I’ve discovered and been charmed by old faithful cultivars since living in France. The French are just dotty about fruit (forget the wretched Golden Delicious). I started grafting (not so very difficult), because I found old cultivars difficult to get hold of. Pears are not too hard (apples are easier). What about getting some rootstocks (you use quince for pears and they are dirt cheap). Then ask your friend for grafting material? Get it from him in February and keep the scions in the freezer or plunged in moist compost/soil until the sap starts to rise around mid March. You can Google ‘whip and tongue’ graft for instructions. Get quite a few rootstocks and stems from ‘Catillac’. Best of luck, whatever you do. (Can almost smell the pears from here!)

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  8. The apple display looks wonderful – we have such a wonderful heritage. Sadly, I can offer no suggestions as our pear trees have been less than successful. It sounds as though you need to go on a pear tasting tour. Maybe you should complete your orchard with a quince tree.

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  9. Isn’t it amazing how a taste can stay in the mind for years and years. So glad you eventually found out the variety you tasted all those years ago. Do show us the tree when you buy it, and blog about its progress! X

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  10. I’m glad you’ve been able to track down the name of the pears. Now, hopefully, you can track down a tree. I’ve learned two things from your post. The first is that there are pear varieties that must be cooked before being eaten. The second is that there are fruit trees that need two other trees to cross pollinate.

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  11. Yes, I am glad you solved the mystery – it’s hard enough trying to work out the variety of some non-fruiting plants, so this could have been a needle in a haystack job. Our newish pear (7 fruits on it this year!) is Concorde which is self fertile but very similar to Conference – it would make sense to have something very different I guess, for added variety.

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  12. I would think that was a very interesting visit. We have two Invincible Pear 🍐 Trees in the garden which is excellent, it doesn’t keep you just eat them as they ripen. Sweet and juicy.

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  13. I have been having so much fun planting (and grafting) old fruit varieties for our little orchard. Food as history. It could easily get out of hand. The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association is planting a wonderful heritage orchard to keep the old and rare varieties from dying out. Have a wonderful time in the Lake District.

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  14. I went to school in Kent and will never forget the smell of so many apples on display at our harvest festival.(It wasn’t all tin food and packets then!) I have been helping in the community orchard this year and we had our first crop of pears. As a thank you for helping we were all given 2 pears each. We let them go ripe and the taste was sublime, nothing like the ones you buy in the supermarket! I’m so glad your pear mystery was solved and you can look forward to growing and tasting those amazing pears again! Have a wonderful half term. Sarah x

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