Do I dare to eat a peach? was a rhetorical question. I think it’s safe to assume that TS Eliot was referring to neither stone fruit nor any latent bravado in the act of consuming one. It’s a poem about the lament for passions unmet and opportunities missed. My musings on produce, while less prolific than my cravings for it, are also defined by a fleeting seasonality, windows barely open before they slide shut again until the following year’s harvest. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “There are only 10 minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat.” I’d grudgingly eaten my way through enough disappointing peaches and pears to know what I was after, but I couldn’t taste it yet.
Still, my finger did waver over the “confirm order” button before committing to the purchase of a dozen peaches from Frog Hollow Farm, a purveyor of organic stone fruit – peaches, nectarines, apricots, cherries, plums and pluots – in California. It was July about 10 years ago and the O’Henry peaches that arrived were so stunning that I ordered another box a week later for my family. By then, it was August, and the peaches were Cal Reds, so explosively potent that they surpassed every cliché that’s ever existed about a peach.
A couple of weeks ago, I visited Frog Hollow Farm’s “urban farm stand” in San Francisco, to load up on organic fruit to take to Sonoma. It was the memory that enticed, but with peach season waning, the selection revolved around Shinko and Warren pears. I already knew the buzz about the Warren pear, had read and heard arguments that it was the world’s finest variety. Getting a thumbs-up from Oprah and Martha Stewart hadn’t hurt its visibility. Americans have been obsessed with the gift of pears for 80 years, ever since Harry & David launched their signature Royal Riviera.
The next day, while driving up the foggy coast toward Bodega Bay, I bit into a hefty brown Warren the size of a butternut squash. Nose-deep in nectar, I fell head over heels into a dreamy, pear-drugged nostalgia. A Warren might be compared to a French Butter pear on steroids: perfumed, herbaceous and classically autumnal, with creamy silken flesh the colour of ivory.
Because peaches ripen on the tree, their ripeness is measured in degrees Brix, the sugar content of their juices. Unlike peaches, pears don’t ripen on the tree, and it’s important to pick them before they fully mature or they’ll turn gritty. As with a great peach, I find that a great pear is best appreciated in its raw and unadulterated state: cooked, it becomes something else.
Mail-order fruit is the ultimate splurge and after that expensive summer, I convinced myself not to reorder Frog Hollow peaches, like I might will myself not to wave as the car carrying someone I love drives off. The deprivation hurt less than the delayed promise of an empty box. But we economise on certain luxuries to make others possible and I’ve come to appreciate pleasure as a kind of luxury, too. So I have a feeling some Warren pears will be turning up very soon.
Nouf Al-Qasimi is an Emirati food analyst who cooks and writes in New Mexico