Fall Rituals

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My mother and I have just done our fall pear canning, something we have done longer than I can remember, and I’m sure many other families in that house have done over the hundred years or so of the tree’s life. I played under its branches as a toddler and climbed in it when in grade school.
It is an early form of Bartlett I think (Did you know there are many different similar forms of most common fruit tree varieties? Tweaked to various climates & markets across the country by breeders & finders of sports.)-though it does not keep for more than about a week off the tree because the fruit is so sweet and totally grit free, and Bartlett is supposed to keep longer than that and have some grit cells in the fruit. But the ripening date and the shape & look of the fruit match Bartlett’s description, and one wonders how many varieties of pears were available in north Idaho at the start of the last century, before there was much in the way of roads in this end of the state and what was being driven in town was generally a team.

We have a picture of the house from about 1908 that shows the tree already in place. It was one of a pair, the other having succumbed to old age many years ago. Average lifespan for pears is about 70 years I have read and so we are relieved, pleased and amazed every year at its resililence. This one toils on, each year surprising us with its yield and its sturdiness under huge snowfalls almost every winter. Bended but unbroken might be its motto. A friend grafted a pair of starts off it for me and this year I set one out in my own young nursery. The tree my parents got for it as a pollinator after its mate died, another Bartlett, just is not the same. Though the fruit improves in size and flavor each year, it is coarser, not as sweet, and a touch smaller. Perhaps it’s just in need of another 50 years of winters & summers?

We canned over 4 days, I sold pears at the market, made pear balsamic vinegar (mmm!), and have put up pear schnapps for the holidays. Canning pears is intimately tied into my and my mother’s life for another reason, falling exactly on her birthday. It has begun in the past few years to creep up a bit as the pears are ripening earlier, now about a week sooner and this was not a terribly hot summer. Global warming? Who knows. But we feel a bit dislocated.

While picking the fruit, the beauty of it was amazing. Pears have silvery bark and glossier leaves than their cousins the apples; this centenarian has reticulated bark on its trunk in squarish chunks, the age spots of the fruit tree world. Fruit needen’t be beautiful to ripen seed, but as the pears at the top of the tree facing south ripen they blush a lovely red over a golden tinted green. The smell is heavenly, and the fruit so silky & juicy you really need to eat it over the sink. What a great universe! Beauty for beauty’s sake and bounty on top of strength & utility.

About the Author

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4b/5aLocation: rural; just south of British Columbia/Idaho borderGeographic type: foot of Black & Clifty Mountains (foothills of Rockies–the Wet Columbia Mountains in BC climate- speak)Soil type:acid sand (glacial lake bed)/coniferous forestExperience level: intermediate/professionalParticular interests: fragrant & edible plants, hardy bulbs, cottage gardening, alpines, peonies, penstemons & other blue flowers, primulas, antique & species roses & iris; nocturnal flowers Also: owner of Paradise Gardens Rare Plant Nursery

In its own way, frost may be one of the most beautiful things to happen in your garden all year . . . Don’t miss it. Like all true beauty, it is fleeting. It will grace your garden for but a short while this morning. . . . For this moment, embrace frost as the beautiful gift that it is.

~Philip Harnden in A Gardener’s Guide to Frost: Outwit the Weather and Extend the Spring and Fall Seasons

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