food fest 10: can i eat these mystery pears?

pear2THIS WEEK IT’S “LAST CALL” of our 10-week Food Fest series with the Dinner Tonight blog, but rather than sounding a last call I’m calling out for help. What in the world do I do with a giant old pear tree loaded with rock-hard fruit? Anybody got a recipe for ripening (or want to break the news to me to just give up)?

I don’t even know if this lone pear, with its handsome lichen-covered trunk (background, below), is “wild,” or was planted by a previous owner, as were the remaining half-dozen or so big old apples that have already seen most of a century on this land, a remnant of a long-ago fruit orchard.

Each year I’ve just enjoyed the pear for the character-filled tree that it is, and written off the fruit as useless, and a nuisance at that, since much of it drops to the ground and creates an experience not unlike mowing over golfballs (if you don’t slip and fall first after stepping on one).  Birds and other wildlife love it, but the one time I tried a bite it was gritty and near-impenetrable.

Pears don’t ripen on the tree, and require some chill to do so as well, that much I know. I’ve read the lowdown on all of this from the Oregon State Extension, situated in prime pear-growing country. But some varieties require two days of chill, at about 30 degrees, and others need a couple of weeks or even six. The true wild pear never really ripens to a humanly palatable state.

I was hoping to make and put up an intriguing-sounding Caramel Pear Butter with 7 pounds of the pears per batch…but maybe I’m just dreaming. Anybody have any experience with stubborn “wild” pears?


As Deb of Dinner Tonight will tell you, this week’s not Pear Week but really “Last Call” of Food Fest, meaning whatever you’re still cooking fresh from the garden or farmer’s market is what we want to hear about.  Stocking up on a final batch of pesto ice cubes, or did you snag some remaining sweet corn for a final freezer batch? Clicking on the category called “Edibles” in the right-hand column of this page will take you through the 10 weeks of Food Fests, and hundreds of links and comments with recipe suggestions from the expanding community this project helped created. (That means you.) There are many, many more recipes over at Dinner Tonight, the blog for Everyday Food magazine, so I recommend a visit. Speaking of which…


Now it’s your turn: Have a recipe or tip for your last-minute harvest favorites? Leave it in the comments below. Then be sure to go visit my friend Deb at Dinner Tonight and do the same. The cross-blog event idea works best when you leave your idea and favorite links (whether to your own blog or another’s) at both host blogs.

Thanks for attending our debut season of Food Fests. Deb and I promise there will be more cross-blogging to come, if not right this minute. We’re always cooking up something…but in case I forget, won’t somebody remind me on Twitter? Thanks.

October 2, 2008


  1. margaret says

    Welcome, Kathleen. Yes, Cornell probably knows…and if I could only find it in the maze that starts here and quickly takes me to here, and I get exhausted. :/ I will try again, and meantime just experiment and see if I can create something delicious with these mystery fruits. As old as the tree is, it could be the rootstock that just grew up and over the former desired variety that was grown on it, and not a cultivated variety at all, I suppose.

  2. Kathleen says

    I think it is a sand pear .no doubt there was a time in this country when folks would graft and try their hand at creating new varieties but down here in the south it is recommended that cooking the pears in a skillet to soften them up and then placing in a pie shell is a good approach. Having said that not all pears are eaten out of hand is there not an Ag Extension agent in your county and perhaps Cornell has a Ag department and papers published dealing with fruits found in new York??

  3. says

    Being as to how it’s last call, I’d like to be contrarian again and recommend making caponata, a mind-bendingly delicious harvest preserve that – for once – can’t be called “lazy girl’s” or ” Quick n’ easy,” or anything similar.

    Actually, it IS pretty easy, but caponata made the old fashioned way is not work-free: you have to fry the eggplants and celery and onions in olive oil before simmering them in the thick sweet-sour tomato sauce and adding the capers and olives. But there are some things that are worth the trouble and anyone still reading can check it out at

    PS. Congrats on the orchid, Margaret. So gratifying when they come through.

  4. Dizzydog says

    If you decide to make Pear Butter try the recipe in a crock pot. I made Apple Butter a few years ago. I filled the crock pot with apple slices and spices and 8 hours later it was perfectly done. No scorching, no stirring, perfect consistency. Very easy.

  5. JeniTN says

    An elderly neighbor just dropped off four bags of pears that sound like what you describe. I didn’t have the heart to turn them away and he is quite deaf so asking questions about them wasn’t an option. they are hard as a rock so I am interested in finding out how any of your expiraments turned out. from what I have read I still can’t find out how to tell when they are ripe because it seems they never get soft like other pears. I have never canned or made preserves but don’t want these to go to waste so any ideas or recipies will be much appreciated!

  6. says

    Welcome, JeniTN. I brought some in a few weeks ago to see what happened (some people said just put them in a bowl and I did), and left some out on the tree to experience some chill (as some commenters suggested). The ones inside are a little less rock-like, but not much. I am going to try a small batch of them cooked this week…stay tuned.

  7. says

    I just recently saw the movie, “Absolute Warhola,” which is about Andy Warhol’s family in Slovakia. In it, a man pointed out a large pear tree with small fruit growing on the old family property of the Warhols. The man said they were not that good for fresh eating. Rather, they dried the fruit and used it to flavor soups in the wintertime.

  8. Leigh Williams says

    I also think they’re Kieffers. My cousin and I just harvested a bushel of them on Sunday.

    They are the premier preserves pear; their firm consistency holds up well in canning. We also use them for pear cake, pie, and butter. My cousin coincidentally just called, and I asked her for her preserves recipe. Unfortunately, this is one of those general recipes you get from family, so I’m guessing at measurements:

    6-8 cups of peeled, cored, and thin-sliced pears
    6-8 cups sugar
    1 T Fruit Fresh

    Toss pears with sugar and Fruit Fresh and allow to macerate at least 3 hours, or overnight.

    In a large kettle, bring the pears and their liquid to a boil.

    Add 1 carton of Sure-Jell or 2 oz of other fruit pectin.

    Reduce heat and cook, low and slow, for two hours, to reduce liquid and render pears translucent.

    Put into sterlized Mason jars, add lids and rings, and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath (she often omits this step, but I recommend it!)

    While they’re not the best for eating out of hand, their tart taste and crunchy mouth feel can grow on you. I grew up with them, and so they’re my favorite.

  9. says

    Tonight I am starting to process the mystery pears: peeling, chopping/slicing, and putting into the slow cooker. Wish me luck. I am optimistic that I will create pear sauce or pear butter or both in time. Have been experimenting with your suggested cooking tips a few pears at a a time, and they do indeed get soft. Stay tuned for the results.

  10. noel says

    We inherited a pear tree when we got our house and I waited for weeks waiting for them to turn yellow and soft on the tree. Then I read that when they are yellow and soft they are considered overripe like bananas turning black and that they are great for making pear sauce and pear butter. I happened to cut one of these hard as a rock pears open and was shocked to discover how juicy and sweet it was! We decided we like them this way. You have to be careful when you let them get yellow and soft since pears ripen from the inside out and the core will often be rotted and not know it. We took our extras and sold them at the farmer’s market yesterday. I plan to wrap them individually in newspaper and enjoy soft pears by christmas.

  11. says

    Welcome, Noel, and thank you for your pear insights. I am partway through my pear cookery, and reserving some as you suggest for later use, to see if they ripen nicely. Do come visit again soon.

  12. Rebecca Herman says

    Those green rock-hard pears are an old-fashioned variety and not for commercial use in America, but great for cooking/baking. Had had hundreds on my young tree this year, with tree limbs breaking from the weight of them! Here is a delicious Pear Pie Recipe that I used and got rave reviews from all who tasted it! I made two pies with this recipe so far and plan to make more for gifts. I peeled and chopped LOTS of pears and put them into gallon-size ziplock bags and froze them. (6 cut up pears per bag = 1 pie’s worth) Here’s the recipe:

    Old Fashioned Virginia Pear Pie

    A carmelized nut topping glazes the top of this pear pie. Use a 9-in pie pastry recipe (you need two, pie has bottom and top crust) or buy store-bought pie crusts, and bring to room temperature before using


    3/4 cup granulated sugar
    About 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
    2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
    1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
    6 cups thinly sliced peeled pears (I use the ones that grow in my backyard- their peel is green and
    they’re firm and crisp; they don’t become soft when ripe…my neighbor called them “old
    fashioned Virginia pears” and said her grandmother grew them)
    2 tablespoons lemon juice
    9-in pastry for double crust
    5 tablespoons butter or margarine
    3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
    1/3 cup honey
    1/2 chopped pecans

    1. In large bowl, mix granulated sugar, four, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, the nutmeg, and the allspice. Add pears and lemon juice; mix.

    2. Mound fruit in bottom crust of pie pastry in pan so that it’s higher in the center than at the edges. Cut 2 tablespoons butter into small pieces and dot over pear mixture. (I forgot this last step and the pie came out tasting fine!)

    3. Center the other pie crust over the fruit and fold top edge of top pastry under the edge of the bottom one, flush with pie rim; crimp together to seal. Cut several slits into top pastry. Set pie in foil-lined baking pan.

    4. Bake on bottom rack at 375 until juices bubble under slits near center of pie- about 55 min.

    5. Topping (I found this to be a bit too much and didn’t use it all! but you may want to):

    In a 1-1/2 quart saucepan, over medium heat, stir remaining 3 tablespoons butter until melted. Stir in brown sugar, honey and remaining 1 teaspoon cinnamon; cook stirring often, until mixture bubbles all over, 2 – 4 minutes. Immediately stir in nuts and spoon mixture evenly over hot pie. Let cool on a rack about 3 hours. Cut into wedges and serve.

  13. Rebecca Herman says

    Oh, and by the way, that type of pear is not meant to soften. They are meant to be used when hard, crisp and juicy inside….like a crisp, juicy apple. Mine are usually ready to use by Sept/Oct each year. Some people pick them in August here in Virginia.

  14. says

    Welcome, Rebecca. The pie sounds delicious. Yesterday I peeled, wedged and poached my first batch of the pears, as a test. This morning I had some of the poached pieces with granola, a little cream and some maple syrup. Perfect. A pie may be in my future…

  15. says

    Welcome, Tim and Linda. I am using mine, and so far so good. I am cooking with them (poaching, making pear sauce, etc.) and no problems. I think any fruit exposed to multiple prolonged frost bouts will perish more quickly and/or get damaged, but harvest promptly and use.

  16. Gloria says

    I enjoyed these pears in PA… An elderly lady in her 80’s came to my property to gather some for seeds to start pear trees. She knew the pear, I lost the name!
    Her advice: Pick after first heavy frost… second she advised it is easy to know when to pick fruit, when the fruit is ripe it falls from the tree. I would gather after frost…friends would come and take baskets full…We made pie, jams, jellies, tarts, canned spiced pears… the best…I took this ladies advice brought seeds to NY when I relocated back to my home state, 2 years ago… have three trees about 4 ft tall now… Time will tell if fruit is true to parent tree. ENJOY! G
    PS writing a children’s book based on that tree!

  17. JanTN says

    All the pear butter recipes I find say to NOT peel the pears and then to put through a food mill. What is the reason for leaving the peel on? I sure would like to find an “easier” way! :) (I’m using Keiffer pears).

    • says

      Welcome, JanTN. I don’t know why; I think either way (whether peeling first or using the mill after cooking to remove the pears) you’re accomplishing the same end result: no skins in finished butter. All I have done when making apple butter was pretend I was making applesauce (I don’t peel my apples, but when making butter do use the food mill to remove cooked skins) and then cook it down endlessly (and I mean it take eons) in the Crock-Pot or the oven until it thickens a lot and colors up.

  18. Linda says

    I also have a mysterious pear tree. It has to be at least 36 years old because it was about seven feet tall when we moved here to our home near Cleveland. The pears are green with areas of brown on them. They never soften no matter what I do to them. They just get rubbery and then rot! I guess I never thought of cooking them. They are crisp and sweet and my dog LOVES them. She practically climbs the tree to get at them!…..So I guess they must be edible. She hasn’t died yet. I’m going to try making some pear preserves, and maybe a pie. Thanks for the good ideas and recipes.

    • says

      Welcome, Linda. After 23 years here, last year was the first time I tried cooking my rock-hard pears. Live and learn. :) The birds and small animals here adore them, like your dog. I will experiment more this year, but not quite yet…waiting for my moment. See you soon again, I hope.

  19. Susan says

    I had two Kieffers (as i have recently discovered), and the first couple of years, the pears were small and rock hard, as you describe. One year i decided to have them pruned and fertilized (organically w/ application to roots), and the next season they were absolutely amazing. I had bushels of the biggest, most succulent pears ever. They were hard, but crispy and sweet like apples, and that’s the way i ate them. Even canned them. They were the size of mangoes…probably 2 lb apiece. Last year i had so many i couldn’t get rid of them all. I pruned late winter this year, and the crop was smaller, but the size of the pears was astounding. i just finished canning all of them. A hint i picked up this year is that when the first pears start to drop, then pick them all, wrap them individually in paper (i used plain newsprint left over from a move), and store them in a cool place…i used an old fridge at about 40 degrees. Then a week before i wanted to can them, i brought them out and kept them at room temp. They were ripe but still firm. Actually, i think i liked the ones i canned last year when they were still crisp…they held their shape better, and i liked the texture better. Hope this helps.

    • says

      Welcome, Susan, and thank you for the story of your pears. My tree is very, very old and large, and you are probably right: though it gets some pruning, it hasn’t been fed in decades or longer, I suspect. Hope to see you again soon.

  20. Theresa says

    We moved in to this old house in the woods in 1999. It has two of these strange pear trees in our back yard. I look forward to pear season every year. These pears are only good for putting up as preserves, pear butter and sliced in lite syrup for pies and cobblers. I even put some of the cooked ones put up for pies in the food processor to make pear sauce as a substitute for apple sauce in muffins and such. Some of them get as big as softballs, look out below!!!

  21. loretta andrews says

    Thx guys & gals,we inherited a house with one of these pear trees in the back yard.Now,i know i don’t have to let these go to waste,i can eat them.I appreciate all the tips given here & will be making a pie soon plus i’ll be picking up what have fallen off the tree, tonight.I thought maybe they were falling due to ripeness & you all helped me know i am right.

  22. Monica says

    I leave about 20 pears in a bowl for about a week. They will soften and sweeten. Going to try
    pie recipe. Thanks for posts.

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