Stars align and events coincide. More often than not, it happens when you’re looking the other way.

I was recently re-reading the late Laurie Colwin’s delightfully witty More Home Cooking (1993) and in the chapter In Praise of Pears she cites a delicious Pear Chutney, which immediately captured my attention as I was swamped by an uncommon glut of fruit from our normally reluctant pear tree.

She mentioned the original recipe was to be found in The Penguin Book of Jams, Pickles and Chutneys by David and Rose Mabey.

I had been made aware of David Mabey’s writing in a conversation with writer and publisher Tom Jaine some years before whilst discussing a food and wine magazine I was due to assemble. We talked around the concept of a seasonal culinary diary that I thought might underscore the culture of the magazine. Tom had already published his own month-by-month scholarly narrative, Cooking in the Country (1986), but generously recommended one of his favourite works; Breadlines – A Journal of Food and Events (1975) by David Mabey. A copy, soon in my hands, I found David’s diary written in a disarmingly honest and accessible way yet buttressed with a limitless enthusiasm for inventive cooking, it left its mark. I was later to purchase another of his publications, The Perfect Pickle Book (2007) written with David Collison and which I have used many times.

That conversation with Tom was nearly ten years ago, and thanks to Laurie Colwin, writing in New York, I now found myself reading about David’s culinary adventures in Suffolk once again. But with all that I was missing the crucial publication – that Penguin book that Laurie had mentioned was not the same as the book I owned.

At first, this appeared easy to solve; a swift scroll through Amazon’s book section and the publication would be mine. What I hadn’t counted on was the second mortgage required for what appeared to be a few shabby cover photos of this 42 year-old paperback. Experience on this site had taught me that descriptions of Good really translate as you’re on your own here Keith. Moving up to a Very Good copy, comes the dawning that a personal loan was required and by the time I hit As New, I was reaching for a lottery ticket. Time had ensured that David’s out-of-print paperback had now become a costly opus. Coincidence fell upon the story once again. I had recently been in touch with David on a completely separate matter, but rather cheekily I wrote asking just for the recipe pages in question. Generously, it popped into my email the following day, and with that surfeit of pears waiting in the kitchen, I made chutney the following afternoon.

By modern standards I make a lot of chutneys for the winter season. I can confirm that I have never made a bad one, and although many have been just ordinary, some are sensational, a rare few are sublime. This one fits into the latter category and I urge you to try it, especially if your greengrocer has a few pears to get rid of or your neighbour wishes to palm off some excess fruit.

Finally the loop closed as my wife, oblivious to all of the above, arrived home the same day after a visit to our village shop and was bearing, amongst other things, two Norfolk rare breed pork pies from smallholders Karen and Jeff. With my still warm chutney and the slices of pie, that day’s stars completed their alignment.

Pear Chutney from The Penguin Book of Jams, Pickles and Chutneys (1978) David and Rose Mabey.

680 gms cored and peeled pears

230 gms onions

230 gms green tomatoes

120 gms raisins

120 gms celery

¼ tsp cayenne pepper

¼ tsp ground ginger

1 tsp salt

350 gms demerara sugar

550 ml vinegar

Peel core and slice the pears and weigh them, chop the tomatoes, onions and celery

Put all the ingredients, except the sugar, into a pan and bring to the boil slowly

Simmer until the pears are tender

After the fruit has softened, add the sugar and continue cooking slowly

At this stage you will need to stir from time to time

When the chutney has thickened, pour into sterilised jars and cover