Don always greets my boys with a big, warm smile and a genuine attentiveness. Wilson and Henry love feeding the fish in his classroom tank - all the while chatting about preschool, the latest Thomas the Train movie, what they plan to be for Halloween and other noteworthy bits of boyhood trivia. They are occasionally lucky enough to receive small trinkets (a sheet of train stickers or a Matchbox toy tractor) as a souvenir of their visit to Don's classroom.
As much as we love these brief visits at school, the real treat is getting to see Don on his farm, charmingly dressed in his uniform of bib overalls.
Don and his lovely wife Maria live just down the road on a sprawling property filled with horses, cows, chickens, ducks and even emus. (Although I generally avoid the emu pen. I struggle with thinking that birds just shouldn't be that big.) Not to mention patches full of pumpkins, trees dripping with ripe cherries and a vegetable garden that makes me rethink my not-so-green thumb. Just last week, Don sent Will home with the most perfect purple eggplant and I immediately began daydreaming of planting our own vegetable garden. Someday.
I knew at that very moment we would be getting chickens of our own. Except for the small matter of Will and I not knowing the first thing about chickens. So Don became our go-to for advice in everything chicken. Which breeds were the best layers? The most child-friendly? How many chicks did a family of four really need? How big of a coop should we build? Just how were we supposed to train the chickens to lay in their boxes rather than on the floor of the coop? Did we need to clip their wings? Through each stage of our chicken raising - from day old chicks to full grown hens - Don has been a wonderful and nurturing source of inspiration and information. He repeatedly assured us that we were capable (and we maybe even began to believe him).
Although we are by no means a farm, our little patch of land (all .3 acres of it) has slowly become more rural over the seven plus years we have lived here. Our giant fruit trees bend their branches under the weight of plums and pears and our pumpkin patch has inched its vines over an entire corner of our yard (although only one lone pumpkin survived the scorching heat this year). This past Spring, Will became a composting warrior, I experimented with growing blueberries (if only the boys and chickens would leave some for me) and rhubarb for pie baking and Will built our own little coop that houses three of the loveliest girls you would ever care to meet. I like to think that Don has helped inspire this back to basics drive in us - the desire to give our boys a more simple yet rewarding childhood than we had previously thought possible.
So, with pears ripening at a rapid pace and more eggs than we could ever know what to do with, I thought it only fitting to give back a little slice of our life in the form of Don's "From Our 'Farm' to Yours" Pear Custard Pie.
I worked the mixture of flour, salt, butter and lard between my fingertips until coarse crumbs formed. Then I added just enough iced water to bring the dough together in a shaggy ball.
With the dough chilling in the fridge, I prepared the pears, peeling and slicing each one into thin wedges. Then I set to work arranging the pear slices in a starburst pattern in the bottom of the tin, gradually layering the fruit until I had reached the lip of the crust.
I began the custard by combining flour, baker's sugar and salt in a large bowl. In a separate, smaller bowl, I whisked three eggs (courtesy of our coop), heavy whipping cream and a bit of melted butter.
Finally, I added my secret ingredient. In place of the standard vanilla extract, I splurged on an organic vanilla bean and I have to admit, the fragrance of that bean when sliced and scraped was worth the price of admission. Plus, I just love the way the seeds pepper the custard.
I combined the wet and dry ingredients and drenched the pinwheel of pears in a heavy dose of vanilla custard.
Then, into the oven for just over an hour and voilà - piping hot Don's "From Our 'Farm' to Yours" Pear Custard Pie.
"It is, in my view, the duty of an apple to be crisp and crunchable, but a pear should have such a texture as leads to silent consumption." - Edward Bunyard