As plots of ground and garden go, orchards hold a special place in my heart. For the gifts of promise, patience and firmly-established roots look no further. The planting of my own orchard has been an episodic tale of discovery and reward. In fact, this year my pear trees produced an admirable sampling of fruit that I was all too eager to pick and enjoy. And now that I’ve shared my list of favorite apples with you, let me continue our walk through the orchard with my list of preferred pears (that is for now).
A Note About How a Pear Ripens
As a general rule, pears, unlike apples, ripen best when picked mature but not fully ripe. If you leave a pear on the tree too long, it ripens from the inside out, resulting in a mushy, unappetizing flesh and core. I pick pears when full size and firm, usually very firm. A stint in the refrigerator gives the pear’s sugars time to develop and form. Commercially grown pears have already been stored in refrigeration, so they ripen on the counter within a few days or even up to a week. The wait is worth it. There are summer pears such as Bartlett, Orcas and Clara Frijs which ripen quickly and are picked in September; and there are winter pears, which require maturation through refrigeration and are picked beginning in mid-October.
The Bosc pear is a russeted gem that produces a crisp, perfumed and firm pear perfect for eating out of hand, baking up in pastry or poaching in sweet wine. Because the skin is thick and brown, and the flesh hard before maturity, the Bosc pear has few pests or problems from fruit set to harvest. It is a winter pear, meaning you pick it in October, refrigerate it, and later ripen it at room temperature.
My latest sweetie-pie of the plate and orchard is a pear from Denmark: Comtesse Clara Frijs. A tip of the hat to the Danes, for this is a succulent, crisp summer pear that drips with a honey-flavored juice that is light and inviting, and leaving you wanting more. (Oh Tom, you do go on.) Seriously, this is a pear that captures the giving crunch of a Asian pear with the rich flavors of a European pear. And not to poo-poo our local favorite, but the Clara Frijs pear outshines and out-delivers the Bartlett pear in the areas of texture, taste and storability. Pick this summer pear in mid-September, and it will ripen off the tree in about a week, but stores longer if refrigerated.
A cross between the Conference pear and the Comice pear, the Concorde pear can’t hide its rich parentage. Flavorful, juicy, and slightly firm when ripe, the Concorde pear stands out a superior pear in my orchard. A truly great fresh-eating pear.
I can see why the Conference pear is the most popular pear in Great Britain and western Europe. Conference pear is a great fresh-eating pear and also reputed to be a fine baking pear, though I cannot speak to that as I ate all of mine out of hand within weeks. This beautiful pear makes a stunning and delicious still life with a plate of cheese and bread.
Beautifully speckled and vividly colored, the pear Forelle (meaning trout in German) is most aptly named. This diminutive little guy is quite the looker and wonderfully firm and juicy at the same time. To me, it has a floral flavor mixed with a light butterscotch aftertaste. As with most winter pears, Forelle is a great keeper.
Discovered just north of here on beautiful Orcas Island, the Orcas pear is a disease-resistant summer pear variety that ripens in September. Like a Bartlett, this pear ripens quickly once picked and you must deal with a lot of pears that don’t store that well. Canning is one answer, sharing another. The pear’s flesh is creamy and melts in your mouth, while the juice holds a brightness and sweetness, usually found in winter pears like Comice.
Fruit Tree Nurseries
- Burnt Ridge Nursery: “…offering many different disease resistant apples on a variety of rootstocks.”
- Fedco Nursery: a great source for heirloom apples, available mail order
- Grandpa’s Orchard: “…allowing the backyard fruit grower to order online and purchase the most proven disease resistant, antique, heritage, unique, and common bareroot fruit tree varieties on dwarf, semi-dwarf, semi-standard and standard rootstocks.”
- One Green World: “…a family-owned nursery now located in Portland. Our plants are grown by Northwoods Nursery, our mother company, on our 66 acre farm in Oregon’s fertile Willamette Valley.”
- Trees of Antiquity: “…growing and shipping organic fruit trees across the country for over 30 years”
(I’ve ordered from all of these with complete satisfaction.)