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Picking day

Picking day dawned clear. As I started up the tree, the trunk was as cool as marble.

I turned to the east to pick a while when the sun came up, illuminating a huge yellow-and-black garden spider in its web.  I was so close I could see the expression on its harmless face.

Over the years, I’ve honed my technique, which is to gather as many pears as I can by reaching out from the center trunk — perhaps a third of the crop. If my timing is right, before the bell-shaped “Moonglows” are fully ripe, I can shake the rest down onto a mat without damaging them. Then we gather and store them for a week to ripen.

One has to watch what he’s doing, and the pace isn’t fast, squeezing between limbs. If I strain too much, high up, I take a break. It’s lovely work, climbing trees once a year for part of my living; in my office, the sky is blue and there’s a breeze.

Sometimes my wife climbs and I pick up.  This year she came out in the afternoon. With me in the tree, we enjoyed each other’s company the way long-married people do – pointing out imperfections in the other’s effort as she packed pears into boxes below.

We once calculated the returns on various uses of our luscious Moonglows and round “Shinsui” Asian pears. We’ve made wine from them, juice and hard cider, and sold them individually in our shop. But the best profit turned out to be a pear butter, which we have cooked and jarred at a local Mennonite-owned cider works, using the same cinnamon-laced recipe they use for apple butter.

Our semi-dwarf Moonglow, now more than 20 feet tall and the biggest of our 13 trees, had another bumper crop this year. It produced about $600 worth of wholesome, organically grown, sugar-free pear butter.

By 4 p.m., the limbs were bare. The sun was warm but the air still cool. We sat under the Moonglow on the hill above our green valley and shared an IPA.

Small Biz Best Buy White — Mulderbosch 2011 Sauvignon Blanc (Western Cape, South Africa), has muted green apple varietal aromas and easy-going flavors that pair well with similarly subtle dishes such as white clam sauce. Unlike many South African SBs, it’s solid rather than exciting, but good-enough at Mulderbosch’s new under-$10 price point. The unique vertical stripe, seemingly embossed on the bottle, is among the industry’s most distinctive packaging. Red — Reserve des Vignerons 2010 Saumur Champigny (Loire Valley, France), from one of the district’s many well-respected cooperatives, has to be among the great wine bargains globally right now: full-bodied but lively, acidic black cherry flavors — “soupy” being a French pet-peeve — from the grape they generally rank ahead of Sauvignon as the more noble Cabernet. It’s barely (if at-all) oaked, some classic “pencil lead” sneaks in on the nose, and the finish goes on and on, for, yes, $10!