Study 4: Pear.
Pears are to be stolen.
History tells us so. And the pear has a lot of history.
The ancients adored the pear far more than we do today. The pear was sacred to the Egyptians’ Isis and the Greeks’ Hera. In the First Century, Pliny dedicated a full chapter of his Natural Histories to the “Forty-one Varieties of Pear,” topping it off with a rather sticky-sounding recipe for pear butter. By contrast, he found only six peaches and fewer than a dozen nuts to be worth mentioning.
Let us begin with the Beginning:
There was a tree with a fruit.
And the fruit was stolen.
Or, more strictly speaking, it was scrumped. To steal a fruit from a tree is to scrump. From scrump, also a term for apple, was derived scrumpy, a common style of cider. And, one suspects — the Oxford English Dictionary says the origin is unknown — scrumptious, meaning delicious, but originally sinfully so.
But which fruit was it that was scrumped?
An elegant interpretive solution proposed that the fruit was never specified in the text of Genesis, lest the scorn that would be showered on that particular varietal drown out the symbolic potency of an abstracted, unspecified fruit.
There are no shortage of candidates for the fruit, with choices animated variably by exegetical skillfulness, personal epiphany, the desire to market one’s preferred geographic location of Eden, or, more basely, the desire to market one’s preferred fruit.
(Adam Leith Gardner’s The Fruit Hunters catalogues them nicely. Additional credit goes to Paradise Lust by Brook Wilensky Lanford.)
(because apples are malicious)
(As a practical matter, it’s easier to clothe one’s self with banana leaves than fig leaves.)
(But, strangely, no one seems to have proposed chocolate).
Coco de mer.
(Self-parodying colonial British General Charles “Chinese” Gordon of Khartoum proposed this one).
(Eden is reported to be near “Cush.” “Cush” may be Kush. Kush is somewhere in Ethiopia or Sudan. Therefore Yirgacheffe.)
(There’s this suggestive Babylonian tablet…)
(It’s in a Botticelli painting.)
(The fig leaves had to come from somewhere. Which varietal was a matter of some erudite debate, likely laden with misogyny.)
(A Talmudic proposal, “for nothing causes more heartbreak than wine.”)
(I don’t know what this is. Please find me some.)
(Its also called ice-apple!)
(One suspects that placing Eden in Ohio or Missouri limits the speculative options).
(Again, please find me some.)
(Another Talmudic option.)
And then there is Pear.
Pear is a serious contender in the race.
Augustine thought so too, at least by analogy. Augustine focused his meditation on the nature of sin as much on the carnality of food as the carnality of carnality.
At a crucial moment, Augustine’s Confessions offers this symbolically heavy-handed anecdote of how at sixteen, he and his (presumably not intimidating) gang of miscreants lusted for theft:
A pear tree there was near our vineyard, laden with fruit, tempting neither for colour nor taste. To shake and rob this, some lewd young fellows of us went, late one night (having according to our pestilent custom prolonged our sports in the streets till then), and took huge loads
. . .
O God, behold my heart, which Thou hadst pity upon in the bottom of the bottomless pit. Now, behold, let my heart tell Thee what it sought there, that I should be gratuitously evil, having no temptation to ill, but the ill itself. It was foul, and I loved it
. . .
What fruit had I then (wretched man!) in those things, of the remembrance whereof I am now ashamed? Especially, in that theft which I loved for the theft’s sake; and it too was nothing, and therefore the more miserable I, who loved it. Yet alone I had not done it: such was I then, I remember, alone I had never done it. I loved then in it also the company of the accomplices, with whom I did it?
Yes, Saint Augustine of Hippo was a scrumper.
Where pear was once Augustine’s inexplicable sin, it became a mad American’s excuse.
Pliny catalogued forty-one varieties of pear.
Lizzy Borden gave forty-one whacks.
Her defense when caught axe in hand? She could not have done it because she was too distracted all day by the three pears she was eating. The pears were just that good.
So, inspired by Augustine’s neurotic detour into his teenage sin, an perhaps needing an alibi, we scrumped some pear.
I was told this pear grew from a stem grafted on the rootstock of a plum long ago. But, apparently this does work. (Pliny mentioned that too).
The plum trunk leading to pear branches, though, grew from a neighbor’s land. But, high enough up, a few wayward stems curved to the west, offering a cluster of pears just a foot or two over what we imagined to be the property line. (We were not being too precise at this point)
Flavor. Sweet. Surprisingly buttery, slightly grained flesh. A thick, papery skin. Otherwise scrumptious. A little guilt.
Process. Examine the tree. Debate, fruitlessly, the legal status in Illinois of seizing fruit hanging intermittently over one’s property line. Abandon efforts of rationalization. Using extendable tree-trimming pole, seize the fruit. Rinse pear with garden hose.
Ingredient. A pear, of unknown varietal.
Oh, the pears Augustine and his gang stole were so hard and bitter that he threw them to the pigs. (If they tasted good, the stolen pears couldn’t be a symbol of the pleasures of sin qua sin, could they?)
We scrumped better pears. But we’ll pair them with pig anyway.