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Autumn pears stir sweet memories



Last Saturday, around noon, the weather was as sunny and perfect as an autumn day can be. I asked Loretta to walk out to our little seven-tree orchard to check on the pear tree. The variety is Comice and it is very susceptible to late spring frosts.

To date, we have never harvested more than a peck in one season and usually none at all because the bloom usually gets killed. But, thanks to an early spring, we discovered that the tree (Starks semi-dwarf ) was loaded down and that rabbits and deer were already pigging out on the dozen of pears that already lay on the ground.

We had taken a five- gallon bucket with us and promptly filled it in just two or three minutes picking low hangers. We came back to the house, found three more big buckets, a stepladder and a 10-foot push broom handle in the garage. We went back to the tree with the buckets and my sturdy garden wagon and began the harvest in earnest.

Lo climbed the ladder and did all the knocking and shaking. When the job was complete, we had four and a half bushels of blemish-free pears to store away and share with friends and neighbors. Another two bushels or so with tiny rot spots or bruises are still on the ground and Lo will can or make preserves with those.

Besides being so sweet they hurt your teeth, Comice pears are naturally spicy and they will keep for months if stored in a cool, dry place. In fact, they taste much better and have much better texture after they have been stored for several weeks. I intend to keep a couple bushels or so, individually wrapped in newspaper, and fully expect to be eating pears until Easter. I also intend to include pears in the fruit baskets we give to friends and relatives at Christmas.

When I was growing up, a huge old pear tree stood in our back yard in the head of Blair Branch. The trunk was probably 18 or 20 inches in diameter and the upper limbs towered to 30 feet or so. The tree sat an angle on the hillside and towered out over the yard as though defying gravity. The slant of its trunk was perfect for growing boys to play on because it was eight or 10 feet before it forked and four main branches went straight up. Besides providing an abundance of exceptionally large fruit in autumn, it was also about as perfect as shade trees come throughout three seasons. Points East

Dad would climb the tree this time of year and vigorously shake the limbs or use a long pole to make the pears fall from the upper branches. Problem was that, even though we covered the ground with cornstalks, half the fruit, because it was so big and heavy, would be bruised or scraped which meant that it wouldn’t keep for very long. Mom canned these, made preserves and even pear butter (same recipe as apple butter with pears instead of apples.)

One fall several of my cousins were visiting and Dad came up with the bright idea that we could hold a king-size bedspread on the corners and around the sides and he could pick the pears or shake one limb at a time and we could catch them in the spread. This was great fun and we soon had several bushel baskets heaped with perfect pears. The process was working like an Elgin watch.

Dad was so impressed with his ingenuity that he was determined not to leave a single pear on the tree so he kept climbing much higher than he’d ever been before into the thin limbs. Suddenly there was a loud snap and Dad came tumbling down grabbing at limbs to break his fall, but he landed smack dab in the middle of the spread with a loud thud. My cousins and I were terrified that he was surely killed because his landing had jerked the bedspread from our hands as easily as a 10-pound catfish breaking sewing thread.

He groaned for a few seconds then popped right up and dusted himself off.

I don’t know who started laughing first, nor why, but within seconds we were all roaring. And before we knew what was going on Dad has his belt off, grabbing first one arm and the another and smacking us across the bottom with thick leather.

Laughter turned to tears because the whipping stung and burned. Two or three of the cousins managed to get away but I was not so lucky. And I’m fairly confident the escapees got their due when Dad told their parents what had happened.

Dad bit his tongue and glared at us after he caught his breath. “Now how damned funny was that,” he asked?



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