By Diane Goodman, January/February 2009
The last time my boyfriend screamed at me, it was the last time. Just after, William went into his office and I went outside.
It was winter in western Pennsylvania, cold but clear and sunny. William lived on land that had once been farmed. The property still held a barn, a milk house and a few fruit trees. On this late January day there remained a few dried leaves high on the trees and some frozen apples hanging on the bare branches. As I walked around the land, hugging myself to keep warm, it came to me that this would be my last visit to the farm.
Down by the pond, the ground was covered with fruit that had fallen from two Seckel pear trees. The little pears were still green. They looked ripe but when I bent down to touch one, it was rock-hard. Still, I gathered as many as I could—almost 30—in the lap of my sweatshirt and headed back toward the house. I didn’t know what I was going to do with them but somehow, even though they were weighing me down, I wanted to turn them into something beautiful that I could leave behind.
I passed William’s closed office door and went into the kitchen, where I set about peeling the tiny frozen pears. It was hard work but cooking—the peeling, mincing, stirring, even the cleaning up—has always been restorative for me. When the pile was done, I put the pears in water and added some white wine from the glass I was drinking and began to think about what to do.
William didn’t cook and he didn’t like to keep anything he couldn’t use. But in one cupboard I had hidden some baking ingredients—cinnamon, sugar, vanilla, baking soda, baking powder, flour, cocoa powder—because he craved sweets and in the winter, I often baked. Into the poaching liquid I shook some cinnamon and some sugar, and then poured in some vanilla.
The simmering released a smell that was irresistible and in a moment of weakness, I thought it might lure William out into the kitchen, into an apology, into my arms, but then I heard his footsteps and the front door slam. I took a deep breath of pear, of vanilla, and of resolve, and believed that all that mattered now was what I could do with these pears.
So I went to the fridge. There was an old box of Godiva chocolates a client had given William. I melted them and drained the pears to cool. Then I sliced the pears as thinly as I could. I tasted one and it was the most marvelous thing: soft but not mushy, sweet and earthy and full with the hope that fruit surviving beyond its prime has earned. With sugar and water, I made caramel and stirred it with a focus and patience miraculously borne out of my resignation and loss.
I laid the sliced pears into perfect concentric circles on a dinner plate and spooned on the caramel. Then I drizzled the melted chocolates on top. In the freezer, I found a box of gingersnaps from last Christmas and I sealed them in a plastic bag and spent too long stomping on them, over and over again, until they were pulverized beyond necessity. I sprinkled the crumbs over the pears and they sank gently into the caramel and warm chocolate. Then, painstakingly with a carrot peeler, I shaved two chocolates on top.
The final product was stunning. By the time I was done, William had not returned. But I was done. And surprisingly happy. I had made something sweet and tender and lovely out of cast-off fruit that had seemed impenetrable. I knew William: when he got home, he would want to resist it but would not be able to. And I would be gone. For good.
And both of those things were absolutely right.
Diane Goodman, author of The Plated Heart and The Genius of Hunger, teaches creative writing and owns a catering service.