December 1, 2013 

“Granny, why can’t I eat this one?” I asked in a pleading voice, pointing to a pear she was putting into a basket.

“Mark, you should know why by now. We have to sell that one,” Granny replied without hesitation while moving on to look for the next pear that had fallen off the pear tree in her backyard. I was always disappointed, but deep down inside knew what her answer would be before I even asked.

To make extra money after Granny retired or, as she said, “plain tired,” she sold pears from a small but very productive pear tree in her yard. When I would stay with her, she would put me to work.

As I found out later when I became a parent, child labor is wonderful because it is usually free, or so it seems.

Granny was adamant that we could only partake of the pears that were not perfect or marred in some way.

If there was a rotten spot or a bruise where the pear had fallen off the tree, those pears were placed in a completely different basket than the “for sale” basket. It was those less than perfect pears we peeled, ate and baked.

My granny used to make the best from-scratch fried pear pies. I can definitely see them in my mind and almost taste them.

She also baked a delicious baked pear pie. She would carefully peel the pears with a small paring knife without complaining -- even though arthritis made it a little more painful as each year passed.

I was always amazed that, more times than not, she could cut the peeling off in one continuous piece. Round and round she turned the pear until only the stem was left.

Like a surgeon, she used the knife to cut away any blemishes leaving the pear misshapen. Because of that, the slices were not always perfectly shaped. But once the pear slices were in the pies, it didn’t matter.

Sugar, butter and some of Granny’s secret spices always united in a crust, and the results were always delicious.

I have always loved pears and I still do today. I love their shape. I love their coloration and I love their mellow taste.

I was basically raised around pears. After my grandmother passed away, it wasn’t very long before my daddy retired as well. He had a propane fish cooker and a huge pot that sat atop the flame.

Many times he filled the large pot with sliced pears instead of fish. That always made me happy because I hated fish and loved pears.

There’s no way to even attempt to count the number of times he sat on his porch dressed in his tan coveralls with all the ingredients to make pear preserves or a variety of relishes. After the pear slices were placed in the pot, mounds of sugar were dumped on them making them appear to be covered with snow.

The aroma of the boiling sweetened pears was intoxicating. Every time I make a pan of from-scratch biscuits, I miss his preserves!

We didn’t serve any pears this Thanksgiving, but we did when I was growing up. A Sunday table wasn’t completely dressed without a platter of pear salads.

I never knew why we called them pear salads because there was nothing green about them unless you opted to place each one on a crisp, fresh piece of iceberg lettuce. We always topped half of a pear with a dollop of mayonnaise and some shredded cheddar cheese.

If we wanted to get a little fancy with our presentation, we would add a bright red maraschino cherry on top. You could easily spot my pear salad on the platter as it was the one without the blob of mayonnaise.

Mine was basically a pear half and some grated cheese but everyone knew not to touch it because I hated mayonnaise and certainly didn’t want it touching my pear in any shape, form or fashion.

I came upon some beautiful pears the other day at the grocery store. Standing in their presence, I traveled back in time. For a few minutes, I was there with Granny under the shade of her pear tree picking up pears. Then I stopped off to visit Daddy on his porch while he whistled while making pear preserves.

I could clearly see the exact platter Mother used for the pear salads and remembered the times she forgot and put the mayonnaise on mine.

When she realized what she’d done, she would scrape any traces away and then blot what she couldn’t get off with a paper towel. My mind was flooded with wonderful memories of my family members and our love of pears.

I just had to have some pears so I reached for a clear produce bag to hold a few. For several days I ate one and each time savored every single bite and memory.

I placed one on a window sill in our kitchen to ripen up a bit. I passed it the other day just as the sun was bathing it in a warm yellow glow. I paused to soak in its beauty as well as the memories it evoked.

I couldn’t get over how perfectly it was shaped without a single visible blemish. I almost hated to eat it because I knew Granny would have put it in her basket to sell. I don’t know which I enjoyed more -- the taste of the pear or the memories!

More with Mark

• Check out Mark’s website, www.markballard.com, for current projects, holiday merchandise, recipes, Mark’s T-shirts, prints, cards and his collectible porcelain plates.

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Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email markballard@cox.net; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.

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