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. says

    Those look exactly like pears we had at our old house. I can’t remember the name of them, but they are common around here South Louisiana). I’ll see if hubby remembers.

    We did eat them. We made pear butter. Basically you do have to cook them. The pear butter was delicious, though! I have a nice recipe if you would like me to send it. :)

  2. wendy says

    Oh, those pears look just the ones my grandma grows! They’re great with squash.
    * cut a crookneck summer squash (the yellow ones, don’t remember the right name) in half. take out seeds. put in the oven on a cookie sheet at 375ish
    * dice a shallot and one of those pears
    * melt some butter in a pan, put in shallot and pear
    * cook until it smells nice and it’s soft
    * add some raisins or dried cranberries or whatever
    * take squash out of oven, put the shallot and pear in the hollow of the squash. add nutmeg, and optionally cheese or rice or anything you think might be good
    * put it back in the oven until the squash is cooked through (maybe 40 minutes? depends on your squash size)
    (sorry this is such a loose recipe, I just kind of toss it together with what’s around)

    Anyway, those small hard pears hold up well enough that they don’t fall apart in the recipe, but they will soften from the sauteeing and cooking. :)

  3. says

    I have some that I picked hard about a month ago. I have them in the fridge, some are beginning to soften. I also made wonderful preserves, with hard ones, they cooked for about 2 hours so they were soft when done. The recipe is here: Pear Preserves


    I agree with Kari — cooking will be required. And if they haven’t fully ripened you probably will want other flavors in your dish. My favorite dish would be a pear/apple crisp with cinnamon ice cream or Mazarintarta: a marzipan tarte with pears.

    Use your favorite pastry crust (I use one from Martha’s Pies and Tart book). Peel and core pears and slice them. Then put them cored side down on the crust with the slices all in order so they make a whole pear “half.”

    Filling; 8 Tblspn. softened butter, 1 cup (8 oz.) almond paste, 2 eggs, i tsp. lemon rind, 2 Tblspn. flour. Mix filling ingredient and pour over pears. Bake at 325 degrees about 40 minutes until filling is set. Dust top with powdered sugar when cool. You can also brush the inside of the crust with melted chocolate for a little flavor surprise when the tart is served. Elegant without being too difficult.

    For lots of pear recipes and fabulous photos I suggest finding a copy of “Pears” by Linda West Eckhardt. “The Great Book of Pears” by Barbara Jeanne Flores has good photos of many kinds of pears but none that look quite like yours except for decorative willow leaf pears but yours definitely do not seem to have the willow leaf.

  5. says

    I don’t have any advice about the pears, but if you decide to make that Caramel Pear Butter, BEWARE! I made it a few days ago and it is delicious. It is also the most messy, painful recipe I’ve ever cooked — once you put the puree on the stove to reduce, it’ll splatter like you wouldn’t believe. And because there’s caramelized sugar in there, it’s freakin’ hot. I have the burns on my arms to prove it! And sticky pear splatters on my walls, ceiling, stove, cabinets, and refrigerator, too. :-)

  6. Lisa says

    I live in Seattle and also have a (roughly) 100 year-old pear tree with rock hard fruit, that won’t seem to ripen. Looks identical to yours. I’d love to use the fruit, so I can’t wait to hear what your readers recommend.

  7. says

    Pears do not ripen on the tree. I don’t know any tricks to speed up the process of ripening, but I would just keep them in a bowl on a table. I’m sure you’ll get some wonderful tasting fruit in no time.

  8. margaret says

    Welcome Andrew, Lisa, and Chris C. Thanks, Chris, for the warning…it sounded so yummy. But lethal, huh? Uh-oh.

    Thanks to all of you, including Andrew, for recommendations on what to do…more are welcome!…and I think I am going to divide up the gigantic crop and try a few things. Let’s see if Lisa and I get an answer that works for our big old trees full of fruit.

  9. chris says

    unlike some on this blog, ahem, i didn’t fret out and pick green tomatoes a couple of weeks age, but have let them ripen quite nicely into october up here in ne columbia county. i have taken to a roast tomato soup recipe, which can be found in a search on the nyt online (published 7/25/08). roasting the tomatoes gives ripe tomatoes a nice rich earthiness, which is helped out by the italian parsley, basil, onions and garlic (all of which i triple in amounts). immersion blend, but don’t strain. simmer to reduce in a creuset. a potage from the gods when the tomatoes come from your soil!

  10. Jeni says

    One of the local orchard owner’s has a pear tree that the fruit remains hard/firm until you wrap it in newspaper or put the box of fruit under a layer of straw. It might be worth a try on your ‘wild pear’ fruit.

  11. diana says

    The last 2 years I’ve picked our pears right before leaving on vacation. They sit in a bushel basket in the breezeway and when we come home 10 days later, they’re ripe. I have heard that if pears are allowed to ripen on the tree they become more gritty. I pick them because I prefer that we eat them, as opposed to the squirrels and raccoons stripping the trees bare.

    My mom’s visiting and last night she tossed a few pears in with a roasting chicken and vegetables. It was really delicious!

  12. margaret says

    Welcome, Jeni. I am trying all of these suggestions: determined to have ripe fruit! Thanks, and do visit again soon.

    @Diana: Roasting! Hadn’t even thought of that. My goodness, will I be busy with all these experiments.

  13. Barbara says

    I have 2 of those pear trees in Copake. I have found the fruit ripens in the winter–December/January. My neighbors, who have lived here for generations, come over to pick them for pie filling.

  14. says

    Welcome, Barbara, and thank you for the tip. Do you leave them on the tree into the winter, or pick soon and store them till December when they will ripen?

  15. says

    For those who are interested I posted a more concise version of the pear marzipan tart on my blog:

    Molly O’Neil has a great recipe for pork loin, pears, potatoes and ginger beer — a nice roasted autumn combination — in her book, “A Well-Seasoned Appetite.” Actually there is a whole chapter on pears.

  16. margaret says

    Welcome, Sally Moon, and thanks for another angle of exploration: keifer pears? Heading out to research now…

  17. Barbara says

    We leave the fruit on the tree until November/December, or whenever it starts to fall off. A couple of days on the counter and it’s ready to be eaten or baked. Every year people we don’t know just stop by and ask if they can pick some pears. Maybe it’s some variety indigenous to Columbia county. Who knows?!

  18. Liz Abrams says

    I have a pear tree in Philadelphia that produces larger than those you show. They turn golden when ripe, but usually are eaten by squirrels and other critters if I wait that long. When I pick them green, they do not ripen well, but I have found they work well if used as tart apples in any recipe. Instead of applesauce, we have made pearsauce, which is very easy, very good, and can be made in large batches to share when you have an abundance of fruit.

  19. margaret says

    Welcome, Liz. I am hesitant to pick too soon, but not sure when the moment is. I am so enjoying learning how others have solved the pear mystery, including your suggestions. Hope to see you soon again.

  20. Marsha says

    We have a pear in NC that was planted on most every farm years ago called Kieffer pear. It is like what you describe, rock hard. These pears were prized for making preserves because they not only make a delicious honey like liquid, the pear slices keep their shape and color. Although recipes call for lemon juice I never use it and my preserves are a beautiful golden color. It’s worth a try and you may find you have a real gem.

  21. says

    Welcome, Marsha. This week I am going to take some fruit and try a few of these things…and leave some out there on the tree for other experiments later I think. Thanks for your tip, and do come see us soon again.

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