When I was 10 years old I developed a serious allergy. I’d break out in hives, suffer from migraine, and my nose would run so much that I thought about installing a bottling system.
The doctors couldn’t quite put their collective fingers on the cause, so I ended up on a special diet to help provide a diagnosis. They called it an exclusion diet. Apparently the idea was to exclude potential allergens, but it felt like I was being excluded from eating.
Boiled chicken, white rice, chickory powder and pears.
For six months.
The diet worked and I ended up much better, but the echo of my pear period still haunts me.
Don’t get me wrong, I like pears, they’re delicious. But I can’t help conjuring images of a hungry and miserable fourth-grader sitting in the playground staring at another bloody pear. Oh yeah, that was me. Any wonder I wanted to learn how to cook!
Pears are a great dietary management food because they are low allergen. It also makes them suitable for weaning infants. And with the number of varieties of pears well into the hundreds, there’s usually a pear in season somewhere and there’s an abundant flavour range.
From a botanical perspective pears (like apples and quinces) present an interesting anomaly. The bit we call the fruit is not actually fruit at all. It’s a bloated calyx tube (flower stem) that wraps around the core, which contains the seeds and is technically the real fruit. Well, I’d prefer to eat the stem any day.
Pears originated in central Europe, in fact some research suggests Switzerland might be their true home, and they were a popular food from around 3000BC. The idea of eating raw pears is, however, a relative novelty. The Romans would have none of that, instead preferring their pears stewed slowly with honey and bay leaf. Cooked pears are delicate and tender, and retain better structure than apples cooked in a similar way. This reflects their different cell structures.
I’m slowly falling back into love with pears. After all, we share so much history, what’s not to love!
Tea-poached pears with milk chocolate custard and caramelised pistachios