Food and drink 

The gnarly pear adventure

Where bear-assisted taste trumps Photoshop perfection

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“I don’t remember ever seeing it planted, and because I have a great traffic of bears coming through that property, because of the plum, pear and apple trees, and the other things growing there, it probably grew out of bear droppings. That’s my guess.”

So there it sits, this mighty little pear tree, just doing its thing in the sun and rain and snow, pumping out fabulous little pears with a streak of wild goodness in them. And nary a human hand interferes with a dollop of fertilizer or a spray of insecticide.

Then there’s the other thing about these pears. Some have a bit of a brown scab or marking on them, which seems to be the cause of their gnarliness, pulling some of the skin tight until the fruit puckers.

Definitely makes for fruit that’s interesting, and full of character — fruit that upstages and, when you stop to think about it, renders weird and other-worldly the waxy, artificial perfection of most fresh produce we see. Something like those e-mails people are passing around these days of the Dove soap ad campaign for “real women” or of (female) models in magazine ads, how they really look in the shot, and how they look after the image has been manipulated in Photoshop.

So do things like the brown blemishes — which are simply the result of an overgrowth of something naturally present on the skin after too much moisture or an injury — put people off at Whistler?

“It’s a half-and-half market,” says Leslie. “Some people see a little odd bump or dimple, or a little stain, or a tiny little insect bite, and they’ll look at it like euuw, what’s this? But many people are willing to overlook that. You can cut around things like that, right?”

Right. That’s exactly what everyone used to do before produce became so perfect so often that now it seems like an aberration or the sub-norm to find a nick or spot.

“But most of my customers know what they are going to get from me. I’m not going to present them with a market-perfect product, but I will present them with something that tastes really, really good,” she says.

Leslie also notes that customers who are into organics, as many Whistler locals are, are much more tolerant of blemishes and imperfections.

Given that, I think we need a new category for food certification standards beyond organic — how about “natural” or “good as wild”? That would definitely fit Old Airport Garden produce. Most of it is not necessarily certified organic, but it generally comes from a source as close to organic as possible. Certainly something like that rogue pear tree, which basically has been allowed to do its own thing, is something beyond “organic”.

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