Pear Trees..Remarkable Yet Under Appreciated

PearsWeb“In a better world, everyone would own a pear tree. In a perfect world, everyone would own two.”
-Dr. Gomandod Vida in a 2011 speech delivered to the Council On Pear Relations.

 

For years, pears were one of my least favorite fruit. If I had to rank fruits, the list would look like this:

1. Mangoes

2. Cherries

3. Watermelon

4. Persimmons

254. Pear

Pears were either weirdly grainy (those grains are called “stone cells”) and hard to bite into… or they were mushy and brown. The flavor was like a washed-out apple.

I never thought much about growing them, partly because I grew up in South Florida – and when I moved to Tennessee later on, I don’t think I ever gave them a thought.

Until one day when my life was changed.

My wife and I were about to be married, and we were picking out a house we’d move into together after our wedding. A real estate agent took us to a list of houses in the miserable town of Smyrna, Tennessee. (I didn’t know how lousy Smyrna was until later on… but that’s a different story). One house we looked at really stood out. It was a small brick cottage that was just over 1000 square feet on about a half-acre lot. The price was well within our range and the neighborhood was quiet and seemed friendly.

But what struck me the most lay in the backyard. It had two pear trees, loaded with fruit that was falling into the drainage ditch along the road.

This was the first time I’d ever seen fully ripe pears growing on a tree. That may sound crazy to some of you Northerners, but remember: I was picking fresh coconuts, grapefruit and mangoes as a kid.

Curious, I reached up, picked a pear, and bit into it.

Photo credit Michael Roper. CC license.

The flavor was amazing. Sweet, sun-warmed, honeyed… nothing like what I’d tasted as a kid.

I decided this was a fruit worth growing… so I bought the house.

Some weeks later, I got to talking with one of my new neighbors about the trees. I asked her who had planted them and why.

“Well,” she said, “Hettie told her kids that she wanted a couple of those flowering pears out here in the backyard, but her kids messed up and bought her fruiting pears instead. She hardly ever ate them, just always gave them away.”

I received confirmation of the “giving them away” part a few weeks later when a woman with a sheepish grin came over with a jar of homemade preserves.

“I didn’t know you’d bought this house… a couple of months ago I picked a bunch of your pears. Hettie used to give them to us. Here’s some preserves I made from them.”

I accepted the preserves (which were delicious) and told her that she could have some of the fruit again next year.

Now – this is all a cute narrative, etc., but I can hear the gears turning in your head.

“Why is David rambling on with cute stories about pears, neighbors, etc. – tell me why I should grow a pear or shut up!”

Okay, fine. But remind me to tell you sometime about my other neighbor who hated the fact that there were earthworms in her grass…

Why You Should Grow Pears

Preppers rejoice! Unlike their beloved cousin the apple, pears are not a touchy tree. They can grow with neglect (the pear at my old place had grown basically untended for years), they’re good at resisting disease and they’re often quite productive. You can’t say that about peaches, oranges, apricots or even most plums.

Those hard varieties common at old farmsteads? Those are probably cooking pears. They’re good for preserves, long-term storage and drying… but not all that wonderful for fresh eating unless you’re a hungry kid who doesn’t want to go in and eat bologna sandwiches again.

The pears in my yard must’ve been some kind of “dessert” pear. I could never nail down the exact variety, but they were good, soft pears that ripened rapidly and went overripe in just a few days. Unlike cooking pears, you couldn’t even get a good week of storage out of them, but the juice tasted amazing and the variety of butters, spiced slices and even a salsa we made… it was incredible.

For the years we lived at that property, we were able to get 100+ lbs per tree each year. We hauled laundry baskets of fruit in and out of the house for processing, peeling and simmering and jarring… it was one week of kitchen craziness every summer.

Pears are productive and reliable: two assets that make them particularly valuable for the prepared homestead. If you keep a dehydrator running, you can jar up plenty of valuable fruit for the coming winter. Beyond that, pears are great for making alcohol, feeding livestock (even my bees feasted on the fallen fruit) and bartering. They also don’t take too long to grow, meaning you could be enjoying your own fresh pears only a couple of years after planting.

Here in Florida I have a variety of low-chill pear trees in my food forest, plus I’ve started stocking good cultivars for sale in my plant nursery so I can share the bounty with others. I went from being a pear agnostic to a pear evangelist.

Give them a try fresh… I’ll bet you’ll start to feel the same way. There’s nothing like a home-grown pear.

About David Goodman

David Goodman is a naturalist and hard-core gardener who has grown his own food since 1984. At age five, he sprouted a bean in a Dixie cup of soil and caught the gardening bug. Soon after, his dad built an 8’ by 8’ plot for him and David hasn’t stopped growing since. David writes a regular column for Natural Awakenings magazine in North Central Florida, posts on the Mother Earth News blog, owns a nursery of hard-to-find tropical edibles and grows roughly 1.5 zillion plants on his one-acre homestead. In mid-2012, he launched www.thesurvivalgardener.com as a place to share his ongoing experiments with tropical and temperate crops. He currently has over 20 intensive beds, multiple field plots, over 100 fruit trees, two food forest projects in different climates and a series of ongoing experiments in-progress - all of which bring him closer each day to complete food security. David is a Christian, an artist, a husband, a father of seven, a cigar-smoker and an unrepentant economics junkie. Visit his daily blog here: The Survival Gardener Follow him on Twitter here: http://twitter.com/DavidTheGood

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