I used to rent a house in Oxford with an old pear tree in the garden. The tree was tall and planted on uneven ground at the back of a herbaceous border. Picking from the tree was hazardous, involving a ladder, deep breaths and plenty of daring. After a couple of seasons I decided the best way to enjoy the fruit was to wait for them to come to me. Whenever I heard a rustle and a thud I’d rummage in the undergrowth to see if there was enough for supper.
I visited Prince Charles’ gardens at Highgrove this week as part of a charity fundraiser. It was hard to imagine, looking at the perfection of his apple trees, that any of them would have the temerity to release their fruit until told to do so. The regiment of trees, each framed at the base in a perfectly square bed of lavender, was loaded with immaculate, unblemished green apples. And there wasn’t a windfall to be seen. The trees were magnificent, but they made me think nostalgically of my disobedient and unruly pear tree that offered up its fruit so noisily and chaotically.
The following day I visited my old house, now lived in by a great friend. We searched the undergrowth for enough of the slightly wonky and bruised fruit to make baked pears with. A windfall in both senses of the word.
Baked Pears With Hazelnut Brittle
Enough for 4
For the brittle:
5 tablespoons caster sugar
1 tablespoon water
50 grams roasted chopped hazelnuts
For the pears:
4 tablespoons caster sugar
4 tablespoons sweet dessert wine
40 grams butter
Preheat the oven to 175 degrees C.
Make the brittle by stirring the sugar and water together in a saucepan over a moderate heat until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat and continue to stir until the syrup turns to caramel. Be careful you don’t let it get too dark, because it will taste bitter. Stir in the nuts and spread the toffee mixture out on a piece of baking paper – it will be scorching hot so don’t be tempted to touch it yet. Let it cool while you make the pears.
Peel the pears and put them in a dish with the sugar, wine and butter. Bake for around 50 minutes until the pears are soft and slightly caramelized. Check on them three or four times to see they don’t burn and each time spoon the juice over the top of the fruit. Snap the brittle into shards and eat with the pears and the juice.
You may know that I have a thing about eating outside, whatever the weather. I have two loyal and long-suffering friends who always wear vests when they come to visit. But even the most reluctant among you would have enjoyed eating those pears with me. As I walked outside a rainbow appeared in the sky. Even Prince Charles can’t order one of those….