Food & Drink » Glenda Bartosh on Food

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The gnarly pear adventure

Where bear-assisted taste trumps Photoshop perfection



“Gnarly!” declares Marcel Richoz, holding up one of the plump and bumpy golden pears at the Old Airport Garden stand at Whistler Farmer’s Market.

“Look, it’s a face.” And it is — an old man’s face with a scar and puckered, collapsing cheeks like he’s just taken his dentures out, and a stem for a long wicked nose.

“These are sooo good,” he advises. And so I stock up on another bag of them. At 25 cents each they seem a bargain. (When I got to my car, I tried one. It was so fabulous I ran back for more.)

If you want to find a Whistler local on a Sunday morning, there’s a good chance he or she will be at Leslie Malm’s Old Airport Garden stand, stocking up on fruits and veggies fresh from Lillooet.

My friend, Pauline Wiebe, actually sent me for the Italian prune plums and the tomatoes, and Marcel was there for those, too, snacking on a blue-purple plum as he filled the little container. (“Fill it more,” urges Hannah Steiner, who was supervising temporarily to give Leslie a break. When was the last time you heard a vendor urging you to take more for your money?)

By the time I was done, I was laden with bags of precious little golden pear and cherry heritage tomatoes I’d also sampled, heavy fragrant beefsteaks, hot chartreuse Australian lantern peppers, sweet little red pepper bombs, a melon, and, of course, the pears and plums — so dense and rich with flavour. Heavenly bounty all, but it’s the pears that have left a lasting impression.

If it hadn’t been for Marcel’s endorsement, I may not have tried them. They were perfectly coloured, and heavy for their size, which meant lots of juice, but nestled in their box, many of them puckered and gnarly like that old man’s face, and a bit on the smallish side, I have to confess they looked like strange dwarfs. I had been hesitating…

So where did these potent magical pears come from?

A wild, rogue D’Anjou pear tree. One that likely was started by a bear.

“I’d like to claim it came from the farm here — we have amazing pears in general on the farm — but this is from an organic source, which is a tree outside my own yard,” says Leslie, later on the phone from Lillooet.

“It can’t be any older than about 25 years because my family used to own the property that it’s on and they moved across the river to be closer to the garden in about 1980.