Native to cool, temperate regions, the pear has been cultivated in Europe since the beginnings of agriculture. In southern Wales every farm and smallholding once had a pear orchard and the freely available, easy to store fruit was a staple of the peoples’ diet. Called in Welsh Gellygen (plural: Gellyg), pear was widely used in a variety of puddings, its aromatic flavour, natural juiciness and absorbent density working particularly well with strong spices. Today’s supermarket pears are, like all the produce of agribusiness, a pale shadow of what used to be. Gone are the myriad unique varieties, specific to a local area; instead the “choice” is limited to a few cross-bred travesties drenched in herbicides and pesticides and flown in from vast plantations (mainly in China, Spain and the US). Durable shelf-life and appearance are paramount, so the offerings in Tesco et al look appealingly pear-like but always disappoint, being either rock-hard or unpleasantly grainy in texture, going off in the fruit bowl with suspicious suddenness and invariably lacking any taste except for a musty, sub-apple apology.
Landed with a bag of imported pears I didn’t really want this week (the UK season is not until September/October), I decided to dig out an old Welsh recipe, Teisen Gellygen, and inflict pear cake on my long-suffering partner. Here is the recipe if anyone wants to try it:
Ingredients: 3 pears, 1 cinnamon stick, 4 cloves, 300ml white wine, 1tbs honey, 100g butter, 100g sugar, 2 beaten eggs, 175g self-raising flour, 1tbs grated ginger root
Method: peel & core pears, poach in pan with wine, cinnamon, cloves & honey until soft, drain (reserving syrup) and place in bottom of greased cake tin; cream together butter and sugar, slowly add egg beating continuously, fold in the flour and ginger, add enough syrup until mixture is smooth and runny, pour over the pears; bake for 30 mins gas mark 4, 350’F, 180’C
Unfortunately I made the mistake of completely forgetting the cake after putting it in the oven, only remembering to take it out when prompted by the smell of burning, and it was virtually inedible. Not to worry: I’ll break it up, saturate it in sherry, dollop on custard and top with whipped cream and hey presto! another of my trifles will be born. This can then be dished out to elderly neighbours and relatives who always pounce gratefully on anything home-made as respite from their usual regime of crappy, gloopy, supermarket ready-meals. It’s an ill wind indeed…and here’s hoping all that ginger and cinnamon doesn’t generate too much of it! Yes, I’m reduced to fart jokes.