I have a wonderful pear tree. It produces tons of excellent fruit. They are completely organic; actually, organic by default since the tree gets no fertilizer or chemicals from me. Some years the harvest is so massive that the limbs are weighted down with fruit. This is one of those years.
Pear origins and history
Pears are one of our oldest cultivated fruits and by the time writing was developed, the ancients knew them well. When Homer composed the Odyssey in about the 8th Century B.C., everyone knew that pears were the gift of the gods. The best calculations conclude that pears were domesticated about 3000 years ago, however, people had been using them much longer. Two distinct types of pears were documented. The Asian pears ripened on the tree and were softer, rounder and harder to transport. European pears ripen best off the tree, with the familiar 'pear' shape and seem to originate in Eastern Europe and were sacred to the Nakh peoples of Chechnya. They were so revered that it was a grave sin to cut a pear tree for its wood. Pear lore is prevalent among a number of cultures. Pears were associated with the Roman goddess Venus. The Scots claim that sacred pears grow on the magical Isle of Avalon. The ancient peoples of what is now Switzerland planted an apple tree when a boy was born and a pear tree for a girl to ensure a long and fruitful life. Other European legends state to dream of pears means riches will come your way, or a woman who dreams of pears will marry above her station. In Asia, pears are a sign of immortality, prosperity and nobility.
Long-lived pear trees produce fruit for many years
My pear tree is a Kieffer pear. That means it is a European pear and the fruits ripen best off the tree. It is mid September and the pears on my tree are very hard and crunchy, but taste wonderful. They should be picked and allowed to ripen and soften indoors. However I have so many, bringing the whole harvest inside is quite impossible. My friends get many bags of pears at this time of year and I eat at least two every day. Over the next three weeks or so, they will slowly ripen more, but these pears are so big and heavy, they fall from the tree with the slightest bit of wind. The tree is ugly and mis-shapen from broken limbs and ice storm damage. It resembles many of the elderly pear trees still bearing fruit on abandoned homeplaces and on vacant lots. In my neighborhood, there are several of these lonesome old trees, still bearing faithfully for the raccoons, rabbits, possums, deer, the occasional fox and other wildlife that find the dropped pears a tasty treasure. Pears need a period of cold weather to properly set fruit, so they grow best between USDA Zones 4-8. The Pacific Northwest is excellent pear growing climate, however most gardeners with winter temperatures that drop below 45 degrees Fahrenheit for several weeks should be able to grow a pear tree.
Make pear honey from autumn pears
After my picked pears have been ripening for about a week, I make pear honey. Pear honey is an old recipe that my grandmother knew well. It is quite easy to do and there are just a few ingredients. While it doesn't contain a drop of actual honey and honeybees have nothing to do with the process other than pollinating the blossoms, it does taste a bit like it. For this recipe, wash about 8 to 10 medium sized pears. Peel and chunk them into small pieces and them pulse in the food processor until they are well chopped. You can also grate them on a box grater. I just like for them to have a well shredded consistency. Put six cups of shredded pears into a large stockpot with the juice of a lemon. Add four cups of sugar and a large, 20oz can of crushed pineapple. Stir well, cover and set aside for at least a couple hours. This allows the sugar to help release the juice from the fruit. When you are ready to cook, turn the heat on medium and slowly bring the mixture to a boil. Continue to cook on medium heat, stirring often. The mixture will thicken as the water evaporates and it will turn to a honey colored amber. This process will take about thirty to forty five minutes, depending on how thick you want your pear honey. I like ours thick, so cook it until it almost sticks in the pan and I stir it almost constantly those last ten minutes. When the mixture has cooked enough, take it off the heat and spoon into canning jars. This recipe makes about three pints, however you can double it or triple it easily, although you do not have to add more pineapple unless you just want to. I wanted this recipe to be user as friendly as possible, so this smaller version makes it easier for first-timers to handle. With as many pears as I have, I will be using the larger recipe for my next batch. Wipe the rims with a damp paper towel, place hot lids and rings on them and process in a boiling water bath for five minutes. Your pear honey is ready. Enjoy on hot biscuits, pancakes, ice cream or as a topping for cheesecake. Pear honey also makes great gifts for teachers, mail carriers, relatives and anyone else that would appreciate home made goodies.