Sometimes you don’t know what you have till it hits you on the head….
It was a typical day for me up on the mountain… get up early, watch the sun rise, of course some coffee, and get to work while the air is still cool, which in Provence doesn’t last but for a couple of hours. My task I set for myself was to clear an outlying piece of terraced property that had not been attended to in many years. When you’re not looking… Mother Nature has her ways and was doing her best to reclaim what was hers. So dressed for combat armed with my trusty weed whacker equipped with a saw blade, pickax, hand saw, shears, face shield and a bottle of water…I marched to the battle field. When I first saw my opponent, I shook my head in disbelief and almost retreated… but I said to myself “I can do this!” Without hesitation I cranked up the weed whacker and didn’t look back. Before long I had a pile of brambles, vines and small trees piled on my tarp 3 feet tall by 3 feet wide, and it actually felt very rewarding. I dragged the pile down the hill and added it to the growing pile of debris to be burned in the fall. On my way back up the hill I stopped and sat in the cool shade of a big old fruiting tree, gazing out into the Valley below contemplating my universe; watching the clouds glide across the sky, swallows flying effortlessly high in the atmosphere and plunging down through the flowering meadows with the fluttering butterflies. Sweat ran down my face but the view made it all worth it. The feeling of calm and tranquility was suddenly punctuated by a bonk on the head. I looked up and laughed out loud… gravity is a bitch! At that point in time I felt like I was transported back to the 17th-century, sitting next to the young Sir Isaac Newton under his famous apple tree where his first unanswered questions about gravity started to take form. We sat there in silence….
It wasn’t until later in his life that the puzzle came together for him… but for me at that moment, I truly got to experience firsthand his first law of inertia, ‘every object in motion will stay in motion until acted upon by an outside force’…. and the outside force was my head. I guess I was lucky…it was just a little round fruit falling from that ancient tree…it could have been a one ton piece of a satellite or a comet!
I held the fruit in my hand for a minute debating whether or not to take a bite. I’ve tasted the fruit before, and it wasn’t very palatable, I had to spit it out because it was so tannic and tart. But… I raised the fruit to my mouth and like Pavlov’s dog my mouth began to salivate and pucker. I took a little bite from the oddly shaped orb and my eyes got wide and my mouth exploded with joy. I sat back and savored the taste…it had a subtle spicy taste almost like ginger and a smooth feel in my mouth, not gritty like most pears. I was in heaven! I looked next to me and sampled another, then another and another. What a surprise…what I thought was a crab apple turned out to be an amazing little pear! It really had me fooled! I was told by the local shepherd that it was a variety that is not grow any more. I looked it up on the internet and found hundreds of old varieties…but none that really matched. I did find an article about an old French variety brought over to the United States in 18th century by French Jesuits that are still thriving…it sounded similar but there were no pictures of the fruit. “A few dozen specimens of the tree can be found on each side of the border, from the mouth of Lake Erie to the shores of Lake St. Clair into Canada. The trees that remain in the city of Windsor are mostly concentrated along the Detroit River and the streets marking the second and third land concessions granted to the first settlers in the 18th and 19thcenturies.” When looking further into the real origin of my pear tree I found this poem that was very telling and made me wonder what stories my tree could tell…..
TO THE OLD PEAR TREES OF DETROIT
Poème de W.H. Coyle, 1849
An hundred years and more ye have stood Through sunshine and through storms,
And still, like warriors clad in mail,
Ye lift your stalwart forms.
Proud in your might ye challenge the winds
As in your palmy days;
And ye laugh in scorn at the howling blast
And the lightning’s lurid blaze.
One by one, like brown autumnal leaves, ( last two verses)
They are falling to the ground,
And soon the last of that honored race ‘Neath the yew-tree wil be found.
Live on, old trees, in your hale green age!
Long, long may your shadows last,
With your blossomed boughs and golden fruit,
Loved emblems of the past. ( read the whole poem)
After many hours of searching…I am still looking…if anyone out there has any notions about its origin…let me know. I am going to try and figure out how I can graft a piece of it or take some cutting next year. I collected as many of these delicious pears as I could find and went back and got a ladder…but I had discovered this little jewel too late in the season to gather enough to make any confiture or pear butter….But I thought I had enough to make a Tarte Tatin aux Poires.