When we moved to our present cottage, hidden in one of Norfolk’s isolated villages, we were told by long standing residents that the impenetrable jungle alongside our new retreat was known, euphemistically, as the ‘orchard’. As we couldn’t see into the garden, let alone gain access, we took them at their word. The area had been abandoned some years earlier and was emphatically sealed from human penetration. Kindly neighbours, who, in offering to lend me their Tonka-toy strimmers, had clearly failed to grasp the full extent of the problem as any potential guidance from the likes of Monty Don had to be urgently superseded by the heft of a JCB digger.

After fourteen trucks of assorted farm implements, various tractor parts, the non-perishable residue of the village midden and a mound of broken Victorian glassware were finally removed, we found soil. We also found the spindly, Giaciometti-like theatre set of a former orchard. Fruits trees that were in dire need of light, nourishment and some serious pollarding, suddenly revealed themselves. Even so, a parterre at Versailles it was not. If the surviving trees had not exactly self-seeded, they appeared to have been sown by an enthusiastic alcoholic with impaired vision.

However, we had the revenants of five apple trees, a cherry, a pear and two plum trees. Not exactly a full fruit salad but enough to provide apple crumble for an entire county. After some careful pruning, the apples and cherries returned, the former with a vengeance. Lagging behind was the sorry looking pear tree. All it could muster in the early years was some puny fruit, so small and so hard it could have been successfully dispatched from David’s sling.

Eventually, with patience and the unwelcome intercession of global warming, we were blessed with the first edible harvest.

So it was that a well tried and well liked Italian recipe for poached pears was re-enacted with (very) locally sourced fruit.

Pears in White Wine [Pere al Vino Bianco] from Italian Feast (1996) Antonio Carluccio

Serves 4

4 Pears (approx. 200g each)

3 cloves

2.5 cm cinnamon stick

Zest of ¼ lemon, cut into julienne strips

50 g caster sugar

350 ml dry white wine

For the cream:

150 ml whipping cream, whipped to form soft peaks

2 tbsp Poire William liqueur

2 tbsp caster sugar

Choose a stainless steel saucepan that will hold the pears tightly upright, to avoid using a lot of wine

Add the cloves, cinnamon stick, lemon zest and caster sugar and pour in the wine to cover the pears

Cover with a lid and simmer gently for 25 minutes, turning the pears after 10 minutes

Remove the pears from the liquor and cool

Boil and reduce the liquor by half

Gently fold the Poire William and caster sugar into the whipped cream

Serve the pears sliced, but still attached to the stalk

Spoon over some of the liquor and the flavoured cream

Wine thoughts

 Marsala has had a mixed press over recent years. As its considerable attributes waned with fashion, it was tinkered with by many an Italian marketing executive and in its basic style was relegated to that of a mere cooking liquor. However, it has begun to re-appear in all its exciting and delicious incarnations. Superiore secco for drier palates, but here, for our pear dessert, I would suggest the unctuous Superiore dolce. Strong hints of newly baked toffee, with a palate of dried fruits and soft caramel that initially coat the tongue, yet provide an unexpectedly refreshing finish. Some aged versions, under the guise of Superiore riserva, are well worth ferreting out.