Alex James: Pear tree provides summer's last show

Rural Notebook
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The leaves on the fruit trees are starting to droop, yellow and drop. While dawdling in the garden I spotted, picked and ate a solitary apple, a real beauty that everyone else had missed, high up, hidden by leaves until just then.

It was only a few weeks ago we were eating figs and grapes, but now those things seem of a different world, another time and place altogether. Other than that apple and a few cheerful bright jewels of alpine strawberries, there was just the pear tree with its bounty still intact, and that dangling from practically bare branches, like upside down balloons. The garden party is over.

A fire burning in the grate as I picked every last pear, a great big basketful: all shapes and sizes, some long and thin like sausages and some almost completely round, like dumplings, but somehow still all very clearly pear-shaped and pear-like. The little tiny ones are the sweetest (it's the same with apples) and I can never resist eating those while I'm picking. It's the picker's perk. The biggest, nobbly ones we sliced, seasoned, sloshed with good oil and ate as cosy as kittens, en famille by the fire watching the flames and the rain as the wind rattled the windows.

It's the very last firework of summer, that pear tree. I never give it any care or attention from one year to the next – it's miraculous, really, and this year even more spectacular than usual. I've never seen it so heavily festooned before, or had the pears quite so juicy.

So that's it. All of a sudden, snap, the nights have drawn in. There's a cold wind rolling in from the east. The lawn is a carpet of leaves and broken rose petals. For months we've been living in the garden as much as the house, but now and until spring they are two very different places.

Apples with bite

There is a whiff of glamour and a good deal of drama about the world outside as it throws out all those mad colours. In the hedgerows, the odd crab-apple tree is as pretty as Christmas. The flavour of these bright, tiny apples is quite explosive, actually better than anything in the garden, but they are flawed as a food in that after a hundred chews I still can't swallow them. Too fluffy. Perhaps they'd make good homeopathic diet pills.

Feast or famine

If the hedgerows will make me thin, the fields will certainly make me fat. We've ploughed about half of it, all for the first time and wheat is being drilled as I write. Homemade bread. Very exciting. My next cheese might have a "roll with it".