Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Twelve Days of Christmas

                                                                                                                                       Thanks for the image

The official Twelve Days of Christmas begin on December 25th and end January 5th, right before Epiphany. I am beginning on December 1st because this song popped into my head this afternoon as hubster and I were debating whether a Norfolk pine could substitute for our traditional Balsam Fir Christmas Tree (although the latter is not native to Virginia, it's smell is essential for my enjoyment of this festive time, the topic is still up for debate). Each lyric of this text holds mnemonic clues for the basic teachings of Christian faith. This song is reputed to have been created in the 16th century to enable the secret transmission of Christian instruction to the children of England during the reformation. However, there is no hard evidence in this matter. You may read about the hidden Christian Teachings here. Other sources say that this song comes from a translation from the french which in turn came from a translation from the Greek and much of the lyrics are translation errors or linked to Greek mythology. Which ever origin you choose to believe makes little to no difference for the following posts as I shall be looking at today's song from a scientific/biological point-of-view.
Let's begin shall we. 

On the first day of Christmas,
my true love gave to me                   
A partridge in a Pear Tree

The partridge is a non-migratory, ground-nesting bird native to Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle-East. The specific partridge illustrated in most illustrations related to this song is most probably the Grey Partridge (Perdix perdix) as it is the most common species. It has been successfully introduced to North-America and is a favoured hunting target.

Grey PartridgeImage via Wikipedia
This bird does fly although not as gracefully as the swallow and generally only for short boubts generally brought on by being scared or flushed from bushes. Although it does not build it's nest in trees, it can find refuge in tree branches if the need be.
 They are related to the bigger and more commonly known and more colourful pheasant.

Partridge annecdote, I travelled by bus from St-Andrew's Scotland to Ullapool - approximately a 4hr trip if I remember correctly - and during this trip, three partridges managed to fly directly into the bus.

The pear tree is native to coastal areas of western Europe all the way to Asia including the north Africa. They are medium size trees comparable to the apple tree. Most species are cold hardy which allows them to be cultivated in Quebec, Canada where winter temperatures can drop below -40 degrees Celsius. Pears have been cultivated in China for over 3000 years. The Romans also cultivated pears, however, they did not eat them raw. China, Italy and the United States are the present days main pear producers and exporters.

w:Pear blossoms, California, unknown variety
The pear, is botanically referred to as a pome, same for the apple. The five petaled flower of the pear tree is generally white, rarely tinted pink or yellow. It is, at time, impossible to tell a pear tree from an apple tree without tasting it's fruit; the pear has a gritty texture because of the presence of sclerids or stone cells - structural cells with a hardened secondary wall.
Pears are a good source of fiber which helps with the regulation of intestinal absorption of glucose and digested fats in addition to preventing constipation.

Summer Beauty pear - watercolor 1893
Pears ripen from the inside out which explains why you and I have frequently found ourself biting into what we believed to be a wonderfully juicy pear only to find it to be rotten at the core. You can avoid these situations, test for ripeness by gently pressing near the stem with your thumb. If it's soft, the pear is most probably ready to eat. Pears don't ripen on the tree, they are harvested before that happens. To speed up the ripening on a pear (or any fruit), place it in a brown paper bag for a couple days. This closed environment will capture the ripening gas, ethylene, produced by the fruit and it's increased concentration will cause the fruit to ripen faster. The more fruit in the bag together, the faster the ripening process will be (to a certain point). To keep a pear slightly longer, keep in a cool open space. Now, if only pears traveled better, they might compete with the apple as my favored on the go snack. 
Take care!
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1 comment:

  1. I love your totally random partridge story inset. Oh, and now I am craving pears.


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