COLUMN: Pears ripen after the harvest

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By Jeneen Wiche

Old farm sites that are long vacant often have remnants of a once thriving agricultural model that fed the whole family. Among the farm smorgasbord was the small home orchard; and among the orchard, the Kieffer pear still stands if nothing else does.
The Kieffer pear has been around for a long time and it seems we have forgotten how to treat it as an eating pear. If you have ever happened upon an old tree, you may have been put off by the hard fruit.
You see, there is virtue in this hard fruit if you can’t go to the grocery store every few days. The Kieffer pear stores and ripens after an initial chilling period so this is perfect if you want pears in the root cellar to last until the winter.
In fact, there is a category of pears called “winter” pears because this chilling period initiates the ripening process and is one of the reasons pears are typically harvested prior to true ripe on the tree.
Usually if pears are left on the tree to ripen, their skin gets tough and the flesh gets mealy. The exception to “pears ripen best off the tree” are Asian pear varieties like Hosui, Chojuro and Shinseiki.
So, back to the Kieffer pear, in our “Fruit, Nut and Berry Inventory” book the Kieffer pear is described as “large, long, golden yellow fruit with a crimson blush. Crisp, juicy, coarse textured, white flesh with musky aroma. Excellent for canning and baking. Good variety for pear honey and preserves. Pick fruit while still hard and store in a cool place; reaches peak flavor when fruit gives slightly to the touch.
Hardy, vigorous tree bears young, dependable crops. Self-fruitful. Practically immune to blight. Tolerates hot climates; grows well in all parts of the country. Extra hardy. Ripens from mid-September to mid-October. Requires 350 hours of chilling…”
If that description does not sell someone on the virtues of this old tree what will? I am afraid the tree feels out of favor because of the changing ways we sourced our food. No longer was the home orchard providing fruit for our families directly or through the corner market; the supermarket became our source for fruit, which meant a bulk proposition sourced from a monoculture orchard growing fruit ready to eat, not ready to store.
For fear of losing the food knowledge that allows us to enjoy the Kieffer pear instead of thinking it tastes terrible, remember the chill, and if you come across a Kieffer pear out standing in the middle of a field somewhere, you will know to harvest the fruit that releases with a gentle tug.
You will know to store it in the produce drawer of your refrigerator and forget about it for a couple of weeks.
And, you will be delighted with the pear after it has a chance to fully ripen. There will be no need to gobble them up because you will also know that they have long storage life.