pearsLast Saturday, with sick children languishing in the house and experiencing flu-ey symptoms myself, I decided to become all industrious in a sort-of non-laborious way, if you see what I mean. Against a wall in our garden stands a pear tree which must be at least forty years old. It is an excellent cropper. The problem is that every year some sort of parasitical insect lays its eggs in the fresh blossom. As the pears grow the larvae grow within them until, reaching maturity, they tunnel their way out, leaving the pears rotten inside. I am sure there is a simple spray out there which I could apply once to solve the problem, but a combination of vague ecological righteousness, distraction and sheer laziness has prevented me from ever doing this. The result is, usually, rotten pears plopping onto the lawn and the path. Last Saturday, though, I picked a hundred or so of the pears before they were entirely ripe and then I cooked them in a special juicer (an excellent German device). This involved peeling and quartering the fruit, cutting away the rotten parts, which took me ages. (Moan, groan.) The idea is, I think, that steam gradually breaks down the sugars in the fruit and the resulting syrup is gradually drained off. Well, I have been drinking the resulting elixir at breakfast all this week . In general, I suppose, things you have made yourself taste satisfyingly better but this syrup is the real McCoy; better than anything you could buy in the shops. I was reminded of this as I walked the dog through the potato fields in Berthem very early one morning this week. The potato plants, harvested mechanically, have all gone now. But there are plenty of potatoes left in the soil; small ones that slipped through and larger ones that bounced out of the container as they were being harvested. If I had had the time I would have fetched a bag and picked them up for they were all perfectly OK. Then I got to thinking that maybe the farmer should invite people – cubs, boy scouts, charitable organisations, beggars…- to come and pick them for I am sure that otherwise they will be ploughed back into the soil. That in turn reminded me of something an Italian expert in poverty, Professor Giovanni Sarpellon, once told me a long time ago: poor people tend to eat poorly, but not because they don’t have money. In fact, you can eat very well for very little. The next time I see somebody begging I will be tempted to say ‘here’s a bus ticket to Berthem; there you will find enough potatoes to feed you and your family – oh, and by-the-way, whilst you are there you could also pick all those windfall apples and pears by the roadside that nobody bothers to pick anymore…’ Is this over the top? Probably, but as the pears in my garden reminded me, we are so wasteful. And here’s a tip. If your household budget is stretched, go the Midi market on Sunday but leave it until the stalls are closing down. You can pick up crates (literally) of vegetables and fruit for next to nothing and sometimes for nothing at all.