The last of the really good pears dropped last night.
Over the last few weeks I have gone into the orchard early each morning with the dogs; the idea was that they could romp, fetch, and do canine stuff, while I gathered the morning’s shakedown. My mistake was in thinking pears would be of little interest to large healthy border collies. They have discovered , however, that these pears are more than satisfactory as a morning snack.
I’m a quick study; I worked out a set of distractions to keep them at bay while I scoop up the best, leaving the bruised ones on the ground for enterprising hounds. I head out with my collecting bag in one hand and their favorite toy in the other. The two youngest have lots of competitive energy and race away when I toss the thing as far as I can. The oldest dog lumbers behind, unlikely to win the chase unless the two bouncier dog knock the thing sideways, into her paws. Our most ambitious eater gives me a grudging step or two then turns to snuffling up the fattest pear under the tree.
I’ve been able to cram as many as twenty pears into the bag before all four dogs assemble back at the tree. The greenest of the large pears will go in the fridge; I’ll split a few of the overly ripe ones with the eager quartet and take the rest to town where I’ll meet with a group of friends. I can’t give away zucchini or squash, but the pears are welcomed. One wag likes to say I’ve come pre-peared or re-peared; brevity may be the soul of wit, but even brevity doesn’t offer much comfort after a week or so of that.
For years, one of the treats than arrived in the holiday season was the heavy cardboard box of pears, picked and packaged by Harry and David. We still have boxes sent to us thirty years ago; our Christmas decorations are stacked in boxes of various size, tucked in the nifty dividers and wrapped in the green tissue that once held the pears. The boxes still look great.
The pears were great too, gigantic and sweet. We’d make them last from Thanksgiving until New Years, sharing a pear among two or three of us. These were Royal Riviera Pears, a variety grown almost exclusively in southern Oregon, where warm days and cool nights persist through a long growing season. Harry and David arrived in Medford, Oregon in the 1920’s with newly earned degrees in agriculture from Cornell. The Royal Riviera was selected as the pear most likely to win a spot in the lucrative fruit trade in Europe, so most of their orchards along Bear Creek were heavy with Royal Rivieras to be picked, kept in cool houses, packed, and sent to Europe. After the Great Depression, Harry and David shifted their efforts to selling pears inside the United States. Thank you, friends and relatives for helping them make their enterprise a success.
Warm days and cool nights sounded pretty good to us, too, so when we hunted for a retirement home, we returned to Ashland, Oregon, just south of Medford, hoping to find someplace with enough space to give our beasts room to run. At the end of a long day of open houses, we were directed to a property halfway between Ashland and Medford, and found ourselves on a long dirt and stone driveway, pine trees on one side and blackberry draped ranch fencing on the other. Before the drive curved toward the house, we knew we were home, and home happened to be in the middle of orchards watered by Bear Creek.
We hadn’t expected pears; in our first year, our small orchard hadn’t been watered regularly, and the fruit trees produced nothing worth eating. During the winter, we leveled the ground between the trees , and this orchard is mostly ground, so that a large space could be used as a dog sport arena. The two apple trees stood at the southern end, the plum tree in a northern corner. One smaller pear tree and another apple tree were at the north end, and the larger pear tree was alone on the western edge. We filled the arena with packed, aged mulch, and diverted water from another field and enjoyed giving the dogs a large useful area in the relatively wet winter.
Other repairs occupied our energy through the spring, and part of the meadow was reclaimed so that the dogs could run on grass in the summer. Without any fanfare, the orchard budded and flowered extravagantly, and by the end of July, we were overwhelmed with fruit, including a bumper crop of pears.
Our pears are Williams pears, also known as Bartlett pears. I won’t go into the details of the story by which Enoch Bartlett named the variety after himself, even though he had harvested pears brought from England, known there as Williams Good Christian pears. The description of the Williams pear on the USA Pears website will suffice in allowing the reader to recognize the variety in any display:
“The pear exhibits a pyriform “pear shape,” with a rounded bell on the bottom half of the fruit, and then a definite shoulder with a smaller neck or stem end. Williams are aromatic pears, and have what many consider the definitive “pear flavor”.”
Well and good, but what cannot be completely described is the difference between the pears found on a shelf, or, to be completely frank, in a cardboard box, and the pears I swipe from the dogs in the morning. OK, they aren’t as symmetrically perfect as the commercial versions, and they are often a bit scarred from falling on the packed mulch. Some are smaller, and some are huge; most are yellow, but a few fall green.
I haven’t taken any from the fridge yet; we have had a steady supply of new pears throughout the week. I have four yellow pears on the window sill. Actually three, as I am eating one now in order to bring the experience more clearly to mind. I start with the neck, near the stem, often the most crisp area of the pear. The perfect pear delivers a crunch in the first bite, then increasing sweetness and juice as the consumer gets close to the core. Whereas I am not fond of the skin of the Royal Riviera, I much prefer eating our pears by hand, rarely slicing the skin away. There is no rough or particulate aspect to the skin; it fuses with the flesh without bringing attention to itself.
Today is the first day of autumn, and most of the Riviera and Anjou pears have been harvested in the commercial orchards that surround us; the Bosc are still on the trees for a few more days. We know the harvest is near when large crates are stacked at the edge of the orchards and twelve-foot ladders lean against the trees. Harry and David have been hiring help throughout the summer, preparing the baskets and displays that will feature the pears as they leave cold storage and meet the distinctive brown cardboard box. Operators are standing by for your call, ready to take a credit card and assure you the pears will arrive by Halloween, or Thanksgiving.
We have asked our friends and relations to consider sending grapefruit from Texas if they are moved to gift us at holiday time; it’s hard to admit that we’ve become pear snobs.
On the other hand, once you have pulled yellow Williams from the tree, the world never looks quite the same. That is certainly true for our youngest dog, also the tallest. I found him on his hind legs, yanking a beauty from the tree all by himself. His taste is excellent; I had been waiting a week for that pear to ripen.