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Guest commentary: Sandy be damned, they had pears to can


My cousin Bill Sullivan’s fishing buddy (and retired fellow professor from Keene State, Russ Harkey) grows Asian pears. He has eight trees. He prizes these trees, coddles them, he uses no chemicals or pesticides. One would think that a fellow who grows these rare pears would also want to hoard them all for himself. Not so. Russ calls cousin Bill who in turn calls me and tells me it’s time to pick Russ’ pears.

Last Oct. 26, a Friday, Russ called with an emergency message: The hurricane was due to begin its entry into New England the following day, Saturday. The Asian pears had to be picked or they would be ruined by the high winds. One nasty little voice inside of me wanted to say, “I’m scrambling to take the furniture down to the basement, and I don’t have time to can Asian pears!”

That’s — CAN — a verb.

By Saturday afternoon we had picked the pears and the National Guard had closed access to all the beaches in Westerly. Forty-five pounds of picked Asian pears had to be canned, hurricane Sandy or no hurricane Sandy, at some point between Sunday and Monday.

I let my cousins and my husband JR know that I had hauled all the canning jars etc. up from the basement. JR and I shopped for the onions, tomatillos, raisins, currents, ginger, garlic, apple cider vinegar and brown sugar. The spices were all pre-measured. “OK,” I said, “I’m ready. Sunday morning. Be here in our kitchen.”

This was the moment when cousin Bill told me that he HAD to play tennis Sunday morning; there was no time to cancel. So, Sunday morning JR and I canned the first 16 jars of chutney before JR rushed off to work at the hospital. It was also all-hands-on-deck at Westerly Hospital.

Meanwhile, the National Guard helicopters and C-130s roar overhead. Sirens blare.

Monday it was all hands on deck in our kitchen: JR, Bill, Marilyn and yours truly. We had to get this done before the power went out. As we were in the kitchen making chutney, Sandy was outside getting more aggressive. Trees were falling, limbs were breaking, the sky was black, and oh, the noise, unbelievable howling of the wind. These were the conditions that were mixed into the second batch of chutney. By Monday afternoon, the chutney was on the gas stove, boiling away, Bill and Marilyn had run home — dodging flying branches and sea foam — and the power had gone off.

By first light Tuesday morning we were just beginning to witness the extent of Sandy’s wrath. She destroyed all of our beaches, all of the New Jersey coastline and had flooded lower Manhattan.

But, by God, she didn’t get Russ’ Asian pears.

October, 2013 — update

No hurricane this year. Worse. A whole rafter of wild turkeys flew up into the fruit-laden branches of the eight pear trees and got to work. They tasted, pecked at, spit, knocked down and/or devoured 90 percent of this year’s crop.

And still, the turkeys wouldn’t leave.

That’s when Russ channeled his inner physicist and got to work. This author of “Phenomenal Physics” knows a thing or two about the nature of, well, nature. He cut Mylar blankets into 6-foot long strips and tied them to the tree branches, surrounded the trees with spinning pinwheels, and rumor has it that he sang the ballad of the fisher cat by the light of the moon. I have this last bit on absolutely no authority. All I know for sure is that we will have no Asian pear chutney this year.

Can’t WAIT for Thanksgiving.



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