Thursday, 14 January 2010

Languedoc Roussillon – Pears

The Languedoc is one of the main pear producing regions in France and the 19th century pear Angélique de Languedoc takes its name from the area. Pears were grown in France during Charlemagne's time and remained a royal favourite. Eleanor of Provence, wife of Henry III, developed extensive orchards and the Court Gardener planted 6 Caillou pear trees in her gardens in 1262. The court accounts of Henry III record pears shipped from Rochelle and presented to the King by the Sheriffs of London. Eleanor of Castille, wife of Edward I, was a keen gardener and had several varieties planted. The French names of pears grown in English medieval gardens suggests that their reputation, at the least, was French; a favoured variety in the accounts was named for Saint Rule.

A pear craze started in France in the 17th century, similar to that of the Victorian one for tulips here in the UK. France that did more than most to develop the pear and the Sun King, Louis XIV (1638-1715) appointed La Quintinie, a passionate gardener, as “Intendant général des jardins fruitiers et potagers de toutes les maisons royales.” Under La Quintinie's direction over 50 different varieties of pear were grown for the tables of Versailles. He wrote prolifically about pears and listed more than 200 varieties, recommending above all, the winter “Bon Chrétien d'Hyve” (the Winter Good Christian). According to La Quintinie Bon Chrétien was the fabled pear that the Romans called Crustumium or Volemum mentioned by Pliny the Elder 1500 years earlier.

La Quintinie grew pears that weighed as much as 2lb in weight and these were probably the Belle Angevine. In England these large pears were called Pound Pears and were baked whole, wrapped in pastry crusts. They had to be baked as they were tough and coarse if eaten raw. They kept well which meant that they could be used throughout the sparse winter months.

The King's Kitchen Garden (Le Potager du Roi) still exists and is reintroducing many of La Quintinie's plants and trees which is a valuable source for heirloom varieties.

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