I don’t know why I do it. The cupboard is stocked with jars of preserves, apple butter from last year, wild plum jam from years ago. I don’t even eat much in the way of jam.
But I’ve got a kettle full of Asian pears bubbling on the stove as I right. The tree is ripe, and yesterday I picked a couple of boxes full. It took most of the evening—two and a half episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to chop them up. It’s a new way to measure time: “Yep, that was three-Buffy job, all right, shelling all the walnuts. But not as bad as the five-Buffy night when we did the acorns.”
Today I’m boiling them down. It gives a nice rhythm to the morning—write for a while, then jump up in panic—are they burning? Stir, then write. Eventually, when the pears are soft and the juice has boiled down, I’ll let them cool, then run them through the cuisinart. That’s cheating—but it saves me having to peel them. I do the same with apples when I make apple butter. Tastes great, and keeps in the pectic from the skins and such vitamins as survive the Long Boildown.
Then I’ll unearth my canning equipment, sterilize jars and hunt up lids, and can it up. It will probably make a good dozen jars of Asian Pear Butter, some of which I’ll give away, some of which we’ll eat, and a lot of which I’ll hoard. Yes, I confess, I’m a Jam Hoarder. I make it, I put it in the cupboard, and then I find myself reluctant to use it. What if we need it later? What if civilization falls apart and these preserves are the last bit of sweetness we’ll ever know, as the waters rise and the trees bake to ash under the blazing sun of climate change?
Maybe I can because I just can’t bear to waste food, to let all those pears and apples rot off the trees, although a lot of them do anyway. Nature does not do moderation much. When things produce, they do so in staggering abundance. The Asian pear tree is drooping under the weight of the fruit. There’s more than I can possibly eat, but not enough to go into business and sell. I can’t help but hear the voice of my Jewish grandmother, who live up to every stereotype about Jewish grandmothers. I could never leave a bit of food on my plate without her sighing, “Oy, people are starving in Europe.” It was a great surprise to me when I finally went to Europe and discovered that people there ate far better than we did. But of course she was still in reaction to World War Two—and perhaps to her own hungry childhood in what is now Ukraine but which she always called Russia. When I tried her line, slightly updated to “People are starving in Biafra/Bangla Desh/Darfur” on my own stepdaughters they would just look at me as if I were out of my mind. “So what am I supposed to do—box up my leftovers and send them to them?” This may explain why they are slim and I am fat—aside from genetics, of course.
I’ll give away a lot of the fruit—but up here everyone has pears and apples now. I’ll make Asian pear tarts (but what about that no-carb diet) and try to feed them to vegans who don’t eat the butter in the crust or sensitive souls who don’t eat wheat. We’ll juice them, back in the city where we have a rather scary juicer. Up here, I go over to my neighbors, Jim and Dave, and we make cider and bottle it. We chop up pears and apples in their wood chipper and press the juice in their hydraulic press. At the moment, I have twelve quarts left from last year—most of which have gone moldy somehow. Will that stop me from making more this year? I don’t think so.
I’m letting the juice boil out of the pears as much as possible before I run them through the food processor, because afterwards they turn into a thick and viscous substance that bubbles and spits on the stove like volcanic lava, occasionally shooting out hot drops that hit me in the eye or spurts that dry on the enamel into a hard substance impervious to all know cleaning products. I do have a round screen to cover the pot with, but cleaning that is not exactly easy in the time of maximum water frugality.
The European pears are also ready to be picked. Those pears need to be picked green—if they ripen on the tree they get mushy and rot in the center. When you push up on a pear and the stem snaps off, it’s ready to pick. Then you put them in paper bags to ripen—and if you don’t forget that they are there in the paper bags and let them rot, you end up with perfect pears.
Today I intend to slice some of them and put them into my hanging dryer, to make dried pears which can join the jars of dried cherries and the dessicated apple slices I’m still hoarding from previous years.
Damn—I think the pears are burning. Got to stir—goodbye now.