Cooking from the Garden: Pears

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Cooking from the Garden Pears

Pears can be one of the most delicious garden-grown fruits. They can also be one of the most mealy and tasteless.

The trick to getting a perfect pear – besides growing a pest-free, healthy variety you enjoy eating – is knowing when to pick your fruit and how to “cure” them for that perfect sweet, crunchy bite.

The basic rule is to pick them before they fully ripen on the tree and then chill them in the fridge for a couple days. (They should be ready to pick when they are easy to detach from the tree by hand or with a small cutting tool.) Unlike many other fruits, pears left to ripen on the tree or picked and set out to ripen on a warm countertop won’t taste as sweet or have the juicy texture of those picked early and then chilled. Instead, they’ll probably taste bland and have a gritty, strange mouth-feel.

But before we harvest, we’ve got to choose our favorite pear variety and get it growing!

There are two general categories of fruiting pear to consider: Asian pears or European Pears. And in those two big groups, there are many more options to choose from. Most Asian pears mature into an apple-like shape and while they can be pressed into juice or cooked into any number of recipes, these are particularly tasty eaten raw. European pears include familiar varieties like Bartlett and Anjou – the ones with the curvy shapes traditionally known as “pear”. European pears are delicious raw, pressed into juice, or cooked into pies, jams, sauces, and so much more. 

European Pear ripening on tree

 

Pear trees come in a range of sizes. Larger varieties not only provide lovely blossoms in spring and tasty fruit by fall, but they also supply needed shade in the summer garden. Just keep in mind that one pear tree may not be enough to achieve pollination, which enables fruit formation. You may need to plant a few trees – or convince your neighbors to plant a few too. Fortunately, if you are gardening in smaller spaces, you may opt for an espalier tree, which will take up less space and likely have a number of types of pears grafted to its trunk – meaning your pollination needs will be met in one tree, and you’ll get to sample several different fruits from it.

To learn more about pear varieties and cross-pollination, check the charts available from well-known fruiting plant vendor Raintree Nursery.

Unfortunately, pears are susceptible to many pests and disease. If you’re just getting started, be sure to select a variety to plant that is pest and disease resistant. But, if you are inheriting an existing older tree – and these trees do live and produce for many decades – identify any issues properly in order to care for your plant. In many cases, it may be simple to reinvigorate a diseased tree.

A few common, manageable pear pests and diseases:

Pear scabis a fungal infection that leaves the exterior of the fruit looking like it has exactly that – scabs. While it may not look pretty, the fruit is still edible in the end.  City Fruit offers a helpful guide to managing this problem.

Codling mothis a nasty creature that lays its eggs in young fruit. The larvae then tunnels through the fruit leaving trails of poop behind, ruining each piece. It is possible to cut out damage on some fruits, but it’s quite a chore. To avoid infestations or stop future ones, try hanging pheromone traps to break the pest life cycles.

Socks on Apples and Pears to Protect from fruit maggots

Apple maggot flies will lay their eggs into pears as well as apples. And, their maggots will ruin the crop. The good news is, you can slip a tiny “sock” over the fruits around the time you thin the fruits from your trees in spring. The female adults can’t lay their eggs through the thin nylon, which expands as the fruit matures on the tree. Later, when you harvest the crop, slip off the “socks” to reuse the next year.

Pear pruning is done in winter, while the trees are dormant.  Find details on proper fruit tree pruning – including invigorating older trees in this article How to Prune: Fixing Bad Cuts.

Once you have brought in your harvest of European or Asian pears, try our autumn salad to celebrate the harvest.

Salad Ingredients:

1 head butter lettuce, torn into bite size pieces

1 carrot, shredded

¼ cup dried cranberries

1 ripe pear, peeled and diced

.5 oz Roquefort cheese, crumbled

Dressing Ingredients:

1 clove garlic, crushed with a pinch of coarse salt

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

salt

fresh ground pepper

Directions:

Stir crushed garlic into vinegar and set aside.

Add lettuce, topped with carrot, cranberry, pear and then cheese into large salad serving bowl.

Grind fresh pepper into vinegar garlic mixture. Whisk olive oil slowly into the vinegar mixture. Taste. Add more salt & pepper, if needed.

Pour about a quarter of the dressing over the salad and toss. If desired, add more dressing to taste. Leftover dressing will keep in the fridge for several days.