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Mon. Oct. 24, 2005: Flemish Beauty Pears

Flemish Beauty pears trigger memories of childhood.
David fills the house with Flemish Beauty pears, fulfilling a memories of days past.

(by David): It’s one of those childhood memory things …. I haven’t read Proust, but I’ve seen enough citations of that idea.

Way back in the early 1970s, Grandfather (and Harry and Pearl for that matter) lived in the house at the southeast corner of Beverly Street and Cecil Street. The property was due for expropriation for a a hydro switching station, and Grandfather moved over to a house one block west on Ross Street. (That’s where I lived with Grandmother during university days in the late 1970s).

It’s hard to be accurate from my childhood memories, but I seem to recall people saying that the Beverly Street house was much larger than the Ross Street House. In addition, the Ross Street house was semi-detached, whereas the Beverly Street house was free-standing. (The Ross Street house had parking off a laneway, though, whereas the Beverley Street house just had a drive coming off Cecil Street). I also seemed to remember that the Beverly Street house had a reputation of a leaky basement.

As it happens, there was a neighbourhood uprising against the Hydro switching station, and the property eventually became part of the CityHome complex. This means the city is the landlord in mixed income housing. In the late 1970s, my friends Debbie and Ena used to live in a 2-story apartment on Henry Street, which is one street east of Beverly Street.

One of the strong memories I had of the Beverly Street house was that it had a pear tree. In the fall, we used to have a day when the whole family would be out picking pears. These were green pears, which weren’t too sweet, but had a great flavour. We used to have a contraption — like a basketball hoop with the netting bottom closed, at the end of a long bamboo pole — that we used to pull the fruit off the tree. It would simply fall into the netting, and after two or three pears, the end would be lowered to the ground for someone to remove the contents. Retreivals using the pole would be done first from standing on the ground, then on top of a stepladder, from the second floor window (which wasn’t that close to the tree) and then from a small roof outside the third floor window (where everyone would be concerned about the danger of falling.

Adam’s posting on Taekwon do and free fruit reminded me of this scene.

Probably around 1978 or 1979, I remember going with Paul to knock on the door of the people living on the Beverly Street house — tenants — and asking for permission to pick the pears. They said that they were waiting for them to turn yellow — they would have had to wait for a long time for that! — and gave us permission to pick. We got so much fruit that we ended up baking pear pies in Debbie’s kitchen.

Sometime later, I discovered that the pears were called Flemish Beauty pears. They’re a hardy variety of pear — presumably Belgian in origin — and I had considered planting a pear tree on Booth Avenue when the boys were young. The caution against this is that South Riverdale used to have heavy industry, so it might not have been such a good idea to grow fruit when there’s a possibility of lead in the soil. The pear tree on Beverly Street has since been removed, and there’s more parking space on that property.

Every fall, though, I’m on the lookout for Flemish Beauty pears in the markets. It’s not exactly the most popular variety. Clapp pears are close, and slightly easier to find. Last year, I posted on a question on Foodland Ontario site on pears and discovered that Flemish Beauty pears actually peak in October. When I was up in Markham this week, I made a slight detour and bought some pears

And that is why the fruit bowls in our home are all full!

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