The Uma Thurman of Pears

By Corby Kummer
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Photo by Genet/Wikimedia Commons

Zeke's post today comes just as I arrive home after almost a week in Ontario. The trip included two days in Toronto, where I went up and down Kensington and Baldwin Streets, the heart of the Kensington Market, looking for the kinds of fruits we don't find in Boston. The profusion is particularly painful in Chinatown, which first off is on a broad avenue, Spadina, with almost unimaginably broad sidewalks that allow almost half a supermarket to spill out onto the street. The mangosteen, rambutan, and cherimoya were spiny, grooved, and beautifully fresh. How I wanted to take some home!

But I get into enough trouble with the USDA inspectors at customs as it is, including a stern warning last time that if I failed to declare cheese I could be fined hundreds of dollars and maybe, the inspector said darkly, worse. Did I not realize I was lying when I said I wasn't bringing in any food? (I looked last night at the line on the form that mentions fresh fruit, meats, and the other things I long ago gave up trying to get in; "food" was the fourth or so and penultimate item. Does it mean chocolates, spice mixes, baking powder, and the like too? For another day and trip.)

The fruit I most wanted to bring home, though, were the Abate pears I fell on with happy recognition at the (mostly Asian-run) greengrocers of Kensington Market. These look like Boscs in a fun-house mirror--way longer, but a similar mottled light brown that's sometimes green, and a marvelously curvaceous bottom with an elegant, long, tapered body. Kind of the Uma Thurman of pears.

Best, of course, is the flesh: buttery and sweet, but not as cloyingly perfumed as Comice can be, and, though not spicy like Seckel or Bosc or as refreshing as Zeke's Asian pears, sweet and perfumed. They're essence of pear, almost the best possible (I reserve the "almost" because when Seckels are ripe but a bit firm and at the height of their spicy season, it's hard to think of a better pear). They're like a cross between the crisp flavor of a Bosc and the sweet butteriness of a good Bartlett, without descending into the one-note syrupy sweetness that by the end of a fresh Bartlett makes them taste like the canned Bartletts we all grew up eating. One source advises against leaving the core or seeds, arguing how good they are and good for you.

But why have I never found them outside Italy, where I devour them, walking down the street eating curvaceous end first like an ice-cream cone? I mean not in this country. The sources I find, both Italian reference books and on the Web, say they're a cross made by one Abbe Fetel in 1866 in the Savoie region of France; despite the French origin, some sites claim they're the most popular pear in Italy, and the Italian name ("Abate" means "abbott," Abbe' would be the French word) suggests that they took hold more firmly in Italy than France. Surely they can be grown in the United States--and probably are, but I haven't been looking in the right places or under the right name.

Anybody got any ideas? Really, you don't have to keep your source to yourself. We'll leave plenty of Abates for you too. Just maybe not quite as perfectly ripe as the ones I found at the Kensington Market.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/11/the-uma-thurman-of-pears/30210/