A Pear With A Past

The cows will be returning to the orchard at Lower House Farm in the next few days so harvesting the windfalls was a priority.  We picked eighteen crates of apples – Bramley’s Seedling, Adam’s Pearmain, Catsheads, Herefordshire Beefing and Hanwell’s Souring.

The pear trees – three magnificent Worcester Black Pears – have cropped particularly well this year. Many of the pears had already fallen to the ground and with some gentle coaxing we were able to dislodge the remainder. So, in addition to the apples, we filled another six crates with Black Pears.

The Black Pear is a very old cultivar that has had a long association with Worcestershire; three Black Pears make up part of the centrepiece of the City of Worcester’s coat of arms. Over the years the origins of Worcester Black Pear have aroused a great deal of debate, but with the help of new scientific methods the mystery may finally be solved.

It has long been thought that the Worcester Black Pear may be related to the Warden Pear, a culinary pear popular in Elizabethan times. Over time Warden was used as shorthand for all hard baking pears, but in particular the Worcester Black Pear. Records show that Cistercian monks first cultivated the Warden in the 13th century at Warden Abbey in Bedfordshire.

A horticulturist at nearby Shuttleworth College, who has been propagating the Warden Pear, has uncovered some new historical information regarding a possible link to the Worcester Black Pear. He is now hoping that with DNA sequencing he will be able to trace the pear’s heritage to establish if they are related.

Black Pears are no longer grown commercially, but it is still possible to buy trees from specialist nurseries. When the pears are picked in November they have a hard, gritty texture.  Old recipes often refer to them as Iron Pears. Store until January then bake slowly in the oven for a couple of hours and Black Pears will emerge sweet and juicy with a very fine flavour.

The classic recipe for Worcester Black Pears is Warden Pie – a raised pie filled with pears sweetened with spiced sugar.

The blog The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies  has published a recipe for Warden Pye from the Westminster City archives and they give an amusing account of their attempt to bake it.

We would be interested to hear about any recipes you have for Worcester Black Pears.

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