Italy is the spiritual home of the pear in Europe.
In a good frost-free warm year production in the pear growing areas, largely Emilia-Romagna and Mantua, will be close to a million tonnes.
In a bad year, a third less.
Varieties include Abaté Fétel (sweet, yellow), Beurré Bosc/Kaiser (sweet-spicy, brown), Conference (sweet, yellow-green), Doyenne du Comice (sweet, green-brown) and the popular table pear William Bon Chrétien (juicy-sweet, green-yellow).
Soil and climate make all the difference to the pear crop.
Spain, with its Mediterranean climate – hot and dry in the summer, cold and semi-dry in winter, produces the blanquilla (juicy, green), ercolini (juicy, yellow-green), conference and limonera (sweet, green- yellow) varieties.
A good year will bring half a million tonnes.
Switzerland, by comparison, is lucky if it produces 30,000 tonnes in a good year. What it does produce is good-quality William Bon Chrétien, whose origins are disputed between England and Italy.
At Martigny in canton Valais, the Rhöne river turns sharply to the east towards Sion and Sierre. Here, under the high alps, 200 growers will produce Beurré Bosc/Kaiser, Guyot (juicy, yellow), Louise Bonne (juicy, green-brown) and William BC varieties using the espalier method.
Travellers passing these pear orchards will see rows of supported trees in various stages of growth.
Pear trees require four years of careful training before they bear fruit. In full bloom they will produce a crop for 25 years.
In the Rhöne valley the pears are harvested green from August 20 for three weeks. They are stored until they turn yellow, about 15 days, when they will be full of juice.
Four-fifths of the Williams BC crop goes to Distillery Morand in Martigny, where they are mashed and distilled into Williamine, their famous pear brandy.
The 1830s were difficult for the people of the hidden Swiss valleys.
Cholera swept across the land, confining people to their homes, where they relied on the stable foods of the land – cured and dried meat, cheeses, fruit, leaf and root vegetables.
Packing leftovers into a pie encased with pastry provided a pragmatic solution.
Out of adversity a traditional dish emerged and survives today.
500 g puff pastry 400 g potatoes, boiled whole, peeled, sliced 400 g raclette cheese, sliced 250 g apples, sliced 250 g Bosc pears, sliced 150 g leeks, halved, sliced, braised in butter