I grew up in North Dallas, close to a vast field of grass where LBJ now runs. In those days, it wasn’t uncommon to find fruit trees growing near creeks, which made finding a quick (free) afternoon snack a breeze. Most of the families in my neighborhood grew plums, persimmons, figs, and pears.
If the squirrels or kids didn’t pilfer them from the trees, my mother would harvest what was left and either can the fruit or create a pie, cobbler, or fresh fruit salad. I still remember the juice of a sweet, late-summer pear dripping down my arm. Even if I picked it early and there was still some snap to the bell-shaped fruit, the indulgence was always special. When September would roll around each year, my mother would slather homemade pear jam on a piece of toast or a waffle for breakfast, then pack one in my lunchbox to take with me to school.
As Dallas grew and landscape architects pulled up fruit trees, replacing them with less-messy designer trees, my mother bought late-season pears at the grocery store. Fast-forward to current day, and you don’t need me to tell you how many pear choices crowd the produce bins in local markets. High-end grocery stores are stocked with local or exotic pears from August through May.
Beyond their virtue as a delicious fruit, they also make pleasing home decor accessories. It’s tempting to select pears based solely on color and keep them in a bowl as a centerpiece. But pears stored at room temperature ripen fast. If a visual presentation is important to you, vary the varieties so you can use them for different purposes as they mature.
A brightly hued Green Anjou is always a great bet. The sweet, mellow meat is easily eaten raw or sliced over warm oatmeal. Don’t confuse the Green Anjou with the similarly shaped and colored Bartlett variety, which performs better when canned, pureed, or baked.
Bosc pears, noted for their warm, autumn-brown color, are perfect for poaching and baking. They have a firm texture and keep their shape in the cooking process. When fall is in the air, there are few things more comforting that the musky, almost smoky-sweet flavor of a Bosc. They are delicious with a bold Cabernet Sauvignon.
One of my favorite pears is the Comice. Slices of the sweet green fruit pair well with most cheese, especially blue cheeses.
The sturdiest of the pack is the Concorde. Not only does it hold its shape at high heats, it’s also versatile. Once it’s baked or poached, the pear emits a fragrant hint of vanilla. The flesh does not brown as fast as other varieties, so slices or chunks are easily added as garnishes for salads and savory dishes.
If you’d like to try your hand at growing pears, plan on getting your trees in the ground in early November. Moonglow, LeConte, Orient, Maxine, Ayres, and Garber are a few of the varieties that do well in North Texas. Make sure you talk with a specialist. Pear trees need to cross-pollinate in order to produce fruit, so plant at least two compatible varieties.
Be prepared to chase off raccoons, opossums, squirrels, and neighborhood kids, who will no doubt vie for the right to grab the fruit from the tree. It may sound like a hassle, but a pear harvested in the heat of battle and tucked into a child’s lunchbox can create a taste memory that will last a lifetime.