Monday, August 16, 2010

A Berry, a Cherry, and The Great Pear Mystery

One of the best things about moving to Green Acres has been taking advantage of the fruit already growing on the property. It's not like we have an orchard (yet), but I think I spent about $8 on fruit this whole summer on half a bushel of peach seconds at an orchard (did you know you could ask for seconds???). Other than that, we've taken advantage of the blackberries, wild cherries, and pears growing around us. The blackberries lasted from mid-June until the end of July, and I spent many an hour dodging thorns and buzzing insects in order to pick these little gems. Wild blackberries are a bit on the sour side, but word on the street is that when you cultivate them, they tend to be a bit sweeter. So guess what we'll be transplanting this fall? We ate most of them, but also managed to freeze several bags full.

When the blackberries died out at the end of July, Byron discovered the wild black cherry tree. These cherries are rather sour and very small, so they're not great for snacks. Besides, you have to be careful not to eat the pits (or stems...or leaves...or bark...) because they're actually poisonous. My kids only get to eat cherries that I've already pitted, which isn't a whole lot of fun for them. So thinking about what we could use these for, I checked the chart that came with my box of pectin and found a recipe for cherry jam. And oh, my goodness - add a bit of sugar to these babies and you can make one of the best jams you've ever tasted! Forget that it took me hours to pit these. I haven't counted, but I probably have about four quarts worth of jam that can be used on sandwiches, with pancakes, or mixed with plain yogurt. If you happen to find a wild cherry tree, they must be picked when they're rather black and as with many fruits, can be easily removed from the tree. Here's a photo of pitting in action:

By the way, I use Pomona's Universal Pectin, which can be ordered online or found in one of those cool Mennonite sort of stores...if you're lucky enough to live close to one. The advantage here is that you can use honey or other sweeteners instead of sugar. If you want to use sugar, you can get away with using a lot less. Pomona's is all natural, too, and stretches further than other pectins out there. Thanks to my friend Delia for turning me on to the stuff.

Now I'm in the midst of mystery pear season. We have two Asian pear trees in the backyard, and the previous owner told us they fruit every other year, hence the mystery. I've never heard of a pear tree that only produces every other year, especially since pear trees are supposed to be the easiest of the popular fruits to grow. So I've been on a quest to solve this quandary because pears every other year is unacceptable to the sustainable-minded. My first guess was that the pears were of the same variety and needed a different one to cross-pollinate. However, as they've matured, I've found this is clearly not the case. These are definitely two different pear types:

Next, I contacted Edible Landscaping. The folks there end up being the unfortunate recipients of any fruity questions I have that can't be solved by a simple Google search, but since I've spent money there in the past, I don't feel too badly about bugging them. They suggested that I need to thin the fruits out to 3" apart after petal fall, which should give me more consistency. Too late for that this year, but it makes sense. A tree that produces heavily one year may not have the energy to produce as well the year after. And this, readers, is a heavy pear year. Our compost currently smells like pear alcohol.

Happily, there are lots of ways to preserve pears. So far I've made pear jam, pear sauce (you know, instead of applesauce), pear syrup, and canned pears. I must warn you that canned pears are a pain, because it's recommended that you peel the pears. I think I was getting a nice cramp in my hand right about when this photo was taken:

Anyway, I gave up on that after about 12 jars or so, canned some with the skins on, and have decided that the family will be eating lots of pear sauce this winter. By the way, canning is easy. I'll have to post about canning basics sometime soon.
Here are our two pear trees. Pear trees last 25-75 years, and I think tree #2 is on year 74. I recently found an Orient pear tree (which is not an Asian pear tree, apparently) and a Keiffer pear tree dirt cheap, so they will replace these when it's time for them to become firewood.

Before I go, a word about Asian versus European pears. You can tell the difference because Asian pears are round and European pears have that traditional, bulbous bottom. I've never been a fan of Asian pears, and I think it's because they ripen on the tree and really need to be eaten or preserved right away. Oftentimes, by the time they get to the store, they're mushy. The pears in my backyard are crisp and delicious. Conversely, European pears need to be picked before they're ripe because they will begin to rot inside if they're left on the tree to ripen. Like peaches, they'll continue to ripen once you pick them.

Anyway, I was beginning to think that the only living creatures to live sustainably in the recent past at our place were the deceased termites, but I think we inadvertently have been doing some sustainable living despite being waylaid by house projects.

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