Miriam's Garden: Finicky pear tree would do well as a pair




We have an old, tall, leafy pear tree growing next to our quince bush; it's just off the lane as you approach our house. It's pretty, but since I’ve lived here, going on 20 years, it hasn’t produced many pears.

This year, I had such hopes for all the fruit, with our abundant rain, after surviving that late frost. But fruit is finicky. The apples are OK, not great, but the deer love them. They munch on them in the road and it keeps them out of the garden. The raspberries have been the stars, prolific and fantastic. I could use some help picking them, please. But the blueberries were not bountiful, and the cherries were gone in a moment. The rhubarb, so promising, seemed to disintegrate with the heat.

Then there are the pears. The one single pear.

I suppose if we’re going to ever get pears we need to become more serious about tending them. That’s just a little of what I learned from fourth-generation farmer Carolyn McQuiston, who owns Dawson’s Orchard in Enon Valley, Lawrence County.

Along with green and red Bartlett pears, the orchard grows seckle, D’Anjou and Bosc pears, plus apples, peaches, blackberries and prune-plums. She sells at the Original Farmers Market in Bridgeville, and at her farm, though much goes wholesale.

Ms. McQuiston, who grows only 2½ acres of pears, vs. 20 acres of apples and 5 acres of peaches, says she’s having a pretty good pear harvest. But the yield is down about 25 percent. “I attribute that to spring frost,” she said. She gave some advice about pears.

• Pears should be picked when green, not when ripe. “A pear left to ripen on the tree will ripen from the inside out, becoming mushy, translucent at the base.”

• “Pears are ready to pick when you see some fruit fallen under the trees and if they come off easily,” she said. Growers run more sophisticated tests than that however, testing for soluble solids and taste.

• Pears are picked all at once. “We then put them into cold storage, but a home-grower could put them in the fridge. Then you bring out what you need and let them ripen at room temperature.”

Pears are the first to bloom in spring, before apples, around the end of April, so they’re susceptible to spring frosts. And they’re a bit of a pain to grow.

There’s a phrase, actually a proverb, said to date to the 17th century: “Walnuts and pears you plant for your heirs.” Ms. McQuiston said that it’s often “thrown out” at grower’s meetings.

Why?

After planting, pears can take six years to set fruit properly. Investing in a new pear orchard can cost more than $10,000 an acre. “They don’t settle down,” Ms. McQuiston added. Just like raising children.

“Even though they may bloom profusely, they may not form fruit, or some fruit will drop after forming,” she said. “They don’t produce consistently every year.”

Then there are the diseases and bugs.

Our hot humid weather is hard on pear trees, exacerbating the spread of fire blight, a serious disease. There’s a pear bug, pear psylla, resembling a small cicada. Hard to control organically, it can cause plenty of damage, including defoliation and preventing fruit buds from forming.

So what about our old pear tree? Seems besides watering it when needed, some pruning and maybe some spraying, what we really need is another pear tree — a pear friend for cross-pollination. Then, maybe, we’d have some pears.

mmmrubin@gmail.com or on Twitter @mmmrubin

Lovely Pear and Parmesan Salad

PG tested

Add some torn prosciutto or sopressata and this salad for four becomes a light dinner for two. Red pears would be particularly beautiful here. To core pears like a pro, halve them lengthwise, and scoop out the cores with a melon baller. Make a little v-shaped cut at the bottom to remove the blossom end.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon sherry wine vinegar

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon honey

1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

4 ounces loosely packed colorful salad greens (about 5 cups)

2 medium-size just-ripe pears, halved, cored and cut crosswise into thin slices

1/3 cup toasted coarsely chopped walnuts

2-ounce piece Parmigiano-Reggiano

In bottom of salad bowl, with fork, whisk together oil, sherry vinegar, lemon juice, salt and honey. Add red onion and season with pepper. Let stand 10 minutes or longer.

Add salad greens and toss to mix. Add pears and walnuts; toss lightly. Taste, adding more salt, pepper or vinegar, if desired. With vegetable peeler, shave wide Parmesan curls over the top. Serve right away.

Makes 4 servings.

— Miriam Rubin

Pear and Dried Cherry Pie with Almond-Crumb Topping

PG tested

I used juicy Bartlett pears for this pie but any firm-ripe pears that yield to gentle pressure will work well. This pie is also terrific for breakfast, maybe with a little yogurt, to assuage the guilt.

Crumb Topping

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup toasted slivered almonds, chopped

4 tablespoons butter, cut up and slightly softened

3 tablespoons brown sugar

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pie

Pastry for a 9-inch deep-dish pie, store-bought or homemade

3/4 cup dried cherries

1/3 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon grated orange zest

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon fine table salt

6 medium firm-ripe pears (about 2½ pounds), peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch chunks (about 6 cups)

To make the crumb topping: In small bowl, put flour, toasted almonds, butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. Rub with fingers until mixture forms coarse crumbs. Set aside (chill if day is very warm).

To make the pie: Fit pie pastry into 9-inch deep-dish pie plate and flute the edge or decorate with a floured fork. Refrigerate until ready to use. In small bowl, mix cherries and orange juice; let soak 15 to 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In large bowl, put sugar, flour, orange zest, cinnamon and salt. Mix with fork and fingers to blend. Add pears and plumped cherries with any unabsorbed juice. Mix gently but well so pears aren’t crushed. Scrape into pie crust. Crumble topping over.

Place pie plate on baking sheet to catch drips. Bake until topping is lightly browned, pears tender and juices thick and bubbly, 1 hour and 10 to 15 minutes. If crust is overbrowning, cover pie loosely with sheet of foil. Cool on wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 8 servings.

— Miriam Rubin

Sweet Baked Pears

PG tested

Sometimes the simplest way is the best. This recipe lets the pure pear flavor be the star. Even better, it’s a pretty good-for-you dessert ready in under an hour. A little whipped cream couldn’t hurt, if it’s real and maybe spiked with a bit of calvados or pear eau de vie. My inspiration came from “Food and Memories of Abruzzo” by Anna Teresa Callen.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut up, plus more for the pan

4 firm but ripe pears

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 13-by-9-inch baking dish or other ovenproof dish, large enough to hold pears in single layer.

Halve pears and and remove the cores with melon baller. Make a v-shaped cut at bottom to remove blossom end. Place cut side down in prepared dish. Sprinkle with sugar and dot with butter. Bake about 30 minutes, basting twice with juices until tender when pierced with fork.

Transfer to wire rack and let cool a bit before serving.

Makes 4 servings.

— Miriam Rubin





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