Pear Candles and Thanksgiving

pear tree

Pears have been harvested for thousands of years and are enjoyed by many cultures throughout the world. In China the pear is associated with prosperity and this fruit is often left as a gift for ancestral spirits at family shines.

a mural from an Egyptian tomb

In Egypt, the pear was considered sacred to Isis, the Goddess of healing and magic. Since the Egyptians also believed that still life paintings could become real in the afterlife, murals found in ancient tombs often included the images of pears.

The Greeks believed that pears were a gift from the Gods. Wild pears were one of the first fruits that were eaten by humans in this part of the world. After pears were domesticated, pears trees that were grown closely together formed thick hedges that could provide defensive walls against attacks by bandits or the forces of rival city states.

Homer wrote about this fruit in Book 7 of the Odyssey sometime around 800 BC. “Without the courtyard, hard by the door, is a great orchard of four acres,1 and a hedge runs about it on either side. Therein grow trees, tall and luxuriant, pears and pomegranates and apple-trees with their bright fruit, and sweet figs, and luxuriant olives. Of these the fruit perishes not nor fails in winter or in summer, but lasts throughout the year; and ever does the west wind, as it blows, quicken to life some fruits, and ripen others; pear upon pear waxes ripe.”

pear sauce

The Romans also enjoyed this fruit. In addition to eating it fresh, they made pear wine. They also used pears to make a dessert sauce and puddings. The recipe for Pira Pulmentari Vicem (Pear Sauce) is found in book 15 of Pliny the Elder’s Natural History series which was written during the 1st century AD. In this recipe, pears were boiled for thirty minutes in a sweet wine such as a Greek Muscat from Samos Island. They were then mashed, cooled, seasoned, and used as a sauce for fruitcakes and puddings.

Marcus Gavius Apicius who was a contemporary of Pliny the Elder, wrote about patina de piris (pear pudding) in his cookbook, De Re Coquinaria (Of Cookery). This dessert was made by mixing boiled and mashed pears with pepper, cumin, honey, passum (raisin wine), garum (fish sauce), oil, and eggs. The mixture was then then baked.

ancient mural of a bowl of pears that was found in Pompeii

Today there are roughly 3,000 varieties of pears that are grown throughout the world. Ten commercial varieties are grown in the United States. These include green anjou, red anjou, bartlett, red bartlett, bosc, comice, concorde, forelle, seckel, and starkrimson. According to gross sales, the green anjou is the most popular pear that’s sold in this country. Not only are they sweet and juicy but they’re also firm and may be used in a variety of recipes.

In our modern world pears are sliced and used in salads. Grilled pear halves topped with whipped cream have served as simple desserts. Pears can be dried or baked in breads and cakes. In France pears have also been baked in tarts. Pictured below is a Tarte Bourdaloue. This pastry features a shortbread crust filled with almond cream and topped with pears that were poached and sliced.

Although I have enjoyed grilling pears and producing pear tarts, I still prefer the simplicity of eating them raw. I like the firm fruit and the sheer amount of sweet juice that comes with each bite.

my fruit themed candles

Having recently made apple and orange fruit candles, I thought it would be fun to make a pear candle. Pictured below is my first production test model for a Bartlett pear candle. It looks and smells like a fresh and juicy pear.

I am currently working at developing a mold that I may use to produce lemons and limes. These lemon, lime, pear, apple, and orange candles will be among the easiest candles that I have to make since they will all be of the melt and pour variety. With the exception of stacked fruit candles, no assembly will be required.

Pictured here is a bowl of fruit using my wax candles. Faux fruit bowls (made with plastic fruit) used to be all the rage for home decorators during the 50’s and 60’s. People liked the color without the inconvenience of having to replace this fruit as it spoiled. One nice thing about my candles is that unlike plastic fruit, the candles have a nice aroma. The oranges smell like oranges. The apples and pears smell like apples and pears.

Since today is Thanksgiving, I will mention that although the first pear trees were brought to the New World by the Pilgrims in 1620, no pears would have been available at the first Thanksgiving meal since the trees would have been too immature to have yielded any fruit. It should also be noted that the traditional meal that we have come to associate with Thanksgiving bears very little resemblance to what the Pilgrims actually enjoyed at their first harvest feast in November of 1621.

Their meal did not include mashed potatoes and gravy. Potatoes had not yet made their way from Central America to Massachusetts. The production of gravy would have required milled flour as a sauce thickener. The first grist mill in the New World wasn’t built until 1621 and even then this mill was not built in Plymouth but was instead built over 622 miles away in Jamestown, Virginia.

Sweet potatoes would not have been part of the harvest meal. Although Christopher Columbus discovered the sweet potato during his voyage of 1492, the first written reference of sweet potatoes in the American colonies wasn’t recorded until 1740.

The turkey that enjoys pride of place at today’s Thanksgiving meals was not eaten by the Pilgrims. The two written accounts from that period report that the Pilgrims ate seafood, wild fowl (ducks, geese, and swans), and venison.

The dinner rolls and dressing that are an important part of our meal would not have been served by the Pilgrims. Even if these colonists had had access to milled flour, they wouldn’t have had any ovens. Since they didn’t have ovens, flour, or even sugar, they would not have had any pies. Although they did have corn, without any way to grind the corn into meal, they would not have been able to make cornbread (which also requires the use of flour).

As to why we now eat turkey for our Thanksgiving dinner, food historians point to the fact that Thanksgiving didn’t become a national holiday until Abraham Lincoln adopted this harvest tradition in 1863. While the Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving in celebration of their first successful harvest, the Thanksgiving of 1863 was commemorated by Lincoln in honor of the Union victory at Gettysburg. The Gettysburg campaign was fought from June 9, 1863 – July 23, 1863 and was recognized by the Union as a turning point in the Civil War.

Since turkeys originated in North America and since William Bradford (the first governor of Plymouth) had written about how the Pilgrims had hunted turkeys in 1621, it was erroneously assumed that these early colonists must have eaten turkey during their first Thanksgiving meal. This myth has largely persisted throughout the past 158 years much to the delight of our domestic turkey farmers.

According to the USDA, the turkey industry is currently worth an estimated $4.2 billion. In 2020, two hundred and twenty four million turkeys were raised for a total weight of 5.74 billion pounds with an average weight of 25.6 pounds per bird.

Photo of a Pilgrim reenactor by The Boston Globe

Edit 11/25/2021: Since I am a confirmed bachelor who lives with four cats, my Thanksgiving dinner will feature a modest 12 pound bird that I am slow roasting in a pit boss grill. This dinner will be served with a made from scratch cranberry sauce, twice baked sweet potatoes, cornbread dressing, buttered corn, peas, and glazed baby carrots. The sweet potatoes will be stuffed with mashed sweet potatoes that were mixed with cream cheese, brown sugar, and butter. For dessert I will have pecan pie.

My cats will enjoy raw turkey liver and sliced roasted breast meat as part of their Thanksgiving meal. For some reason they like roasted turkey but are not fond of roasted, poached, grilled, or even raw chicken.

Since Thanksgiving is traditionally a time for giving thanks, I would like to express my appreciation for the fact that I am alive and in reasonably good health. One year ago today I had just been released from the hospital because my kidneys had failed. The urologist at the hospital was able to restart these organs by flushing them with a saline solution mixed with antibiotics. After an interminable stay at a hospital that was punctuated with many blood tests, I was released without the need for dialysis. The bad news was that I needed prostate surgery and due to local Covid outbreaks, my surgery date was repeatedly rescheduled due to the lack of beds at the local hospital.

Since I wasn’t feeling well at the time of my release, I didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving last year. Not only is it good to be alive but it’s also good be free of chronic pain. I am grateful for my life and for the medical service that was provided by the urologist, the surgical staff, and all of the nurses and orderlies who helped care for me.

By way of appreciation, I gave all of these people some berry tart candles. Their kind comments about these candles eventually encouraged me to launch Tasty-Candles as a business.

berry tart candle

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