Archive for May, 2013


(Not) Going Pear-Shaped

May 30, 2013

In my last post I mentioned a roast chestnut I’ve had in a coat pocket for 24 years. Now I’ve unearthed another oddity.

An autumn spring clean has reacquainted me with a decorative candle received as a house-warming gift in 1986 – and never used. Maybe the Beurré Bosc pear shape was too nice to melt into a blob, or it held sentimental value. Either way, its time has come. More on that later.

Whenever I cook brown pears, my mother mentions the hot sugary pears she ate in Trieste prior to the 1950s. They weren’t sold at shops but from large metal containers strapped to the shoulders of walking, talking vendors. Pre-cooked and kept warm atop hot coals in a bain-marie arrangement inside these drums, the special small brown pears (peri petorai) were sometimes sold on skewers. Obviously a precursor to the ‘dessert on a stick’ phenomenon now popular.

Photo courtesy National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

George Baldessin’s beauties

Jump to 1983 when I tasted my first pear and dark chocolate gelato in the lovely Tuscan city, Lucca – a flavour combination so special I can still taste it.

Home from the European trip, I was dying to know what Veneto-born Australian artist George Baldessin’s Pear – Version No. 2 steel sculptures at the Australian National Gallery would taste like with a Poire Belle Helene treatment.

Italy loves its pears and is the second-largest producer of pears. In Australia, our pear industry is struggling, with SPC Ardmona bulldozing surplus trees as it tries to compete with cheap imports sold by supermarkets. I used to enjoy Lindt’s Dark Intense Pear flavour but I hear it’s discontinued. If anyone knows otherwise, please tell me so pronto.

pear candle

Cause to celebrate – 1st anniversary post

But back to the pear candle. The ancient Chinese believed the pear was a symbol of immortality as pear trees live a long time, so with no celebratory sparking wine in the house, I’m going to light the candle for this blog’s first anniversary. May it live a long time too.

Hope you continue to enjoy it.

Here’s a Mario Batali recipe combining pears and chocolate.

And something sweet and sticky from Delia Smith: Pears in Marsala

George Baldessin’s Pear – Version No. 2 (’73) image courtesy National Gallery of Aust.


May 15, 2013

If ‘that old chestnut’ is used often enough, doesn’t the idiom itself become an old chestnut?

Uncooked chestnuts

Let’s make the collective noun a VENEER of chestnuts

Never mind, I’m marking autumn and the cooler weather by eating record numbers of chestnuts. I can’t resist the sweet, nutty flavour and smooth floury texture. They’re low in calories and high in Vitamin C, and the bonus is the shell’s beautiful faux wood veneer pattern.

My own ‘old chestnut’ is 24 years old and lives happily in a winter coat pocket in my wardrobe. I bought the purple coat for my father’s funeral in Italy in December 1989 and after buying hot roasted chestnuts the same day from a street vendor, I saved the last chestnut in the paper cone and put it in my pocket. It’s been there ever since. I haven’t worn the coat for many years but occasionally put my hand in the pocket just to touch the smooth chestnut.

Various Italian community groups in Australia celebrate what was once known as “poor man’s food” with harvest events, and I was pleased to see Sydney restaurateur Stefano Manfredi recently host a chestnut and wine sampling outside his Balla restaurant. He tells me he’s the Ambassador for Chestnuts Australia and conducts masterclasses at Myrtleford, NE Victoria where they’re mostly grown.

I roast them under the griller (after scoring the shell with a cross to prevent explosions) and eat them neat, but also like them in cakes and desserts especially the traditional Tuscan cake made with chestnut flour, nuts and rosemary – Castagnaccio. DO NOT under any circumstances confuse them with ‘horse chestnuts’ which are bitter, mildly poisonous and sound like something that Colonel Potter from the TV series MASH would splutter loudly.


Chestnut in all its natural glory. Was it also a Muppet character?

Let’s embrace chestnuts in Australia. Why not organise a sing-a-long next Christmas of Nat King Cole’s famous Christmas Song that begins ‘Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire …’

Help spread the word. And don’t forget to SHARE, lest the First Witch in Macbeth (Act 1, Scene 1) takes revenge again and casts an evil spell on you.

Nigella Lawson does a great chocolate chestnut refrigerator cake   

And for chestnuts with a kick, try this: Chilli Spiced Roasted Chestnuts via Not Quite Nigella 

PS. I’ve  just discovered a delicious Mario Batali recipe for Chestnut Crepes

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