San Antonio Express News
Sunday, August 28, 2005
PEARS AND PEAR PRESERVATION
By Dr. Jerry Parsons
Pears have to be one of the easiest fruit to grow on the planet. The novice fruit grower should realize that it doesn’t take an exceptionally brilliant person to produce a decent crop of pears since the potential for producing a pear crop organically is listed HIGH on the listing at: http://aggie horticulture.tamu.edu/sustainable/publications/organicfruit.html. In fact, once the proper variety is selected, a gardener can plant the tree and forget it. As my uncle used to theorize, the best way to make it grow is to plant the tree; then either forget it or try to kill it.
This seems rather harsh, but not far from the truth. If you are doubtful, check some of the old abandoned homesteads in Texas. The house may have fallen down, the people are long gone, but the pear tree is still growing strong. What is even more frustrating is the fact that the abandoned tree probably is producing better than the tree in your backyard which you are pampering. In fact I had a lady who grew up in Comanche county bring me some pears from her old home place. The tree is known to be over 100 years old, has had virtually no care and has a full crop of pears. Eddie Fanick of Fanick Nursery identified this variety as Garber. A selection of Garber called Monterrey, which is more resistant to fireblight, is still recommended for this area.
Pears have endured the best test available – the test of time. It originated in the Afghanistan-Russia-China area and is thought to have been used for food by Stone Age men. The Greeks improved pears which were referred to as “the gift of the gods.” Pear seeds were sent to America in 1629, and they produced so abundantly that by 1771 one nursery listed 42 varieties.
Pears were very popular during colonial days because they will store so well. In fact, pears can and should be harvested before they fully ripen or become soft. As a rule, harvesting generally should be done in September. Several criteria can be used to determine fruit maturity. These are firmness, color, and corking of lenticels. While few homeowners have pressure testers, a crude measure can be done by hand. When the fruit changes from the firmness of a baseball to the feel of a softball, it is close to maturity. The background color of a mature fruit will change from light green to a yellow color. Probably the easiest indicator of maturity is the fruit lenticels. These are small ‘dots’ or indentations on each fruit’s skin. Lenticels on an immature pear are white; however, as cork cells develop the lenticels become brown and shallow. The brown color in the lenticels is a good indicator that the fruit is ready to be picked, and will ripen without shriveling. After harvest, pears should be stored at room temperature until they soften. After softening they can be canned, eaten fresh, or stored in the refrigerator until needed. Pears are best if picked when hard and ripened at 70 degrees F. until soft. The varieties, Orient and Monterrey, will require about a week. Kieffer pears should be individually wrapped in paper and held at room temperature for approximately 14 to 30 days for best flavor. Remove any rotted fruit if it occurs. If you plan to cook them, make sure to use them while still firm. If you wonder why pears which look sound have become brown inside, it is because they have been held too long at a too-low temperature.
If you want to freeze some of your bountiful harvest just peel, cut in halves or quarters and remove cores. Heat pears for 1-2 minutes, depending on size of pieces, in boiling syrup made from 3 cups sugar to 4 cups water. Drain and cool. Treat for discoloration with ascorbic acid. Cover with cold syrup in which pears were heated. Seal and freeze immediately. Pear preserves are also a real delight. For more information about preservation of pears and pear recipes such as: Pear Conserve, Pear Amber Marmalade, Pear Honey, Pear-Tart Apple Jam, Pear Preserves, Pear Honey Preserves, Pickled Peaches or Pears, Pear Relish, Pears Chunk-style, Cherry Fruit Salad, and Louise Kay’s Salad, see the expanded write-up at: http://www.plantanswers.com/garden_columns.htm under the first week of September position with the title of: Pears and Pear Preservation.
Because of a deadly disease of pears called fireblight, the only – and I emphasize ONLY — pear varieties recommended for planting in this area are (1) Warren, (2) Ayres, (3) Magness, (4) Garber, (5) Monterrey, (6) Fan-Stil, (7) LeConte, (8) Orient, and (9) Kieffer. The first three (1-3) have excellent dessert quality and are highly resistant to fireblight. The quality of the next four (4-7) is not bad, and the trees will not die from fireblight. The last two (8-9) have been around a long time and are best used for canning or cooking as opposed to fresh eating. It is best to plant two varieties for proper pollination.
Fruit production is a long-term situation. Make a mistake on variety selection, and you will pay the consequences for years to come. Make the right decision and you can be assured of an abundance of delicious pears for many years. If space is a problem, you might want to consider espaliering. Espalier simply means “a tree or vine trained and pruned to grow flat on a wall or structure.” See the PLANTanswers.com column mentioned above for complete instructions and images. For more information about pears and pear growing, see: http://aggie horticulture.tamu.edu/extension/homefruit/pear/pear.html
Dr. Jerry Parsons is a Professor for Texas A&M University and a Texas Cooperative Extension Horticulturist for over 30 years in South Central Texas. For more information on this or other horticulture topics, go to www.plantanswers.com and our County Extension website at https://bexar-tx.tamu.edu.