My adopted home city, Worcester, has as its symbol a black pear. It appears on the city’s coat of arms, on its rugby and cricket club badges and features in numerous other associations with the city.
The Worcester Black Pear is in fact an ancient, local variety of pear, believed to be at least six hundred years old. No longer grown commercially, it can still be found occasionally across rural Worcestershire, growing in hedgerows and in old orchards. It is just one of around 550 different varieties of native British pear, some of which have wonderfully evocative names such as Bishop’s Thumb, Frangipane, Moonglow and Autumn Bergamot. However, many of these varieties are also perilously close to extinction.
Traditional pear orchards, where many of these more rare and unusual varieties of the fruit are to be found, have been described as “islands of biodiversity” in a landscape that is otherwise largely devoted to monoculture and intensive agriculture. Studies have shown these orchards to shelter up to two thousands varieties of fungi, plants and insects.
But those pear orchards are disappearing from our landscape at an alarming rate, mainly because the UK now imports 80% of the pears that it consumes, thanks to the dominant influence of the supermarkets over our food consumption habits.
When you shop in the fruit and vegetable section of a typical British supermarket, as so many of us do, you can be forgiven for having little, if any, understanding of the concept of seasonality. That is because the supermarkets’ business model makes it preferable for them to secure a guaranteed year-round, week in week out supply of the same produce from abroad than to have to keep chopping and changing their produce aisles in accordance with what is in season during the British growing cycle.
The direct consequence of a food system based upon on both intensive agriculture and intensive marketing and retail is the gradual extinction of variety. In the longer term this threatens profound consequences for our future food security, not just as a nation but as a species.
On your next visit, take a look at the country of origin of the pears for sale in your supermarket. Depending on the time of year some, yes, may well be British, but others will be imported from as far away as South Africa or Argentina, both involving journeys of over 6,000 miles.
To prevent these imported pears from wrinkling or deteriorating during such lengthy journeys they are routinely sprayed with fungicidal wax.
So, this rant is not simply based on misty-eyed sentimentality – there are strong environmental and health reasons to eat locally grown, British, organic pears.
Although there are some encouraging signs that supermarkets are beginning to respond to consumer pressure by supplying more locally grown fresh produce in their fruit and vegetable aisles, there is still a long way to go.
If, when we shop, we choose British pears over their inferior imported equivalents then we will be encouraging that trend and also helping in a small but significant way to preserve our native pear industry. Otherwise, the senseless decline of the British pear will continue and we will be in very real danger of losing some of those 550 wonderful varieties for good.
Right… Just give me a moment to step off the soap box and into the stripey apron.
This recipe has been created for Suma Wholefoods Cooperative, one of few shining lights in the otherwise depressing food economy of this country. Under our arrangement, every two months I create a recipe using products I have chosen from Suma’s great range of organic, ethically-sourced products.
This vegan dessert is the third of my recipes created for the network. The pears come from my garden and I have provided links to the Suma products that I have used.
If you want to try an alternative to the chocolate sauce, these pears also work well with my Thai basil and lemongrass ice cream.
almond stuffed pears with chocolate sauce
1 litre water
1 vanilla pod
1 star anise
100 ml organic maple syrup
Juice of 1/2 lemon
for the filling
for the chocolate sauce
100 g dark dairy-free chocolate, broken into small pieces
160 ml coconut milk
40 ml maple syrup
1 tsp organic vanilla extract
1. Split the vanilla pod with a sharp knife and place in a large pan or casserole dish (one that has a lid), along with the water, maple syrup, lemon juice and star anise. Place on a low heat, stir and bring to a simmer and then remove from the heat and leave to infuse while you prepare the pears and their filling.
2. Melt the coconut oil over a gentle heat. Place the ground almonds, maple syrup and vanilla essence in a bowl, add the coconut oil and mix together into a stiff paste.
3. Peel the pears and then, working quickly but carefully, use a sharp knife to slice of about half a centimetre from the base. Next, use a melon baller or small teaspoon to remove the core, hollowing out a cavity to remove the pips and central woody parts but keeping the pear and the stem intact.
4. Carefully place the pears into the infused maple and spice syrup. Place the casserole dish or pan over a low heat and place a lid over the top. Poach gently for 25 minutes or until the pears are tender. Remove the pan from the heat but leave the pears to cool in the poaching liquid.
5. When the pears have cooled to room temperature, remove them from the poaching liquid and very carefully fill each pear with some of the stuffing. Place the stuffed pears in the fridge for 30 minutes. This allows the coconut oil to set and the stuffing to firm up.
6. For the sauce, place the coconut cream, maple syrup and vanilla in a saucepan. Stir and place over a low heat. Before the mixture comes to the boil, remove from the heat. Add the chocolate pieces in batches, whisking as you do so, until you have a smooth sauce.
7. To serve, carefully cut each pear into half using a sharp knife. place two pear halves on each plate, surrounded with a generous puddle of the chocolate sauce.