“Why did you plant two?” I asked my neighbor when I came over to help pick “pear apples” from one of her two huge and overburdened Asian pear trees, which stand just six feet apart in her sunny back yard.
“Because I wanted to put up a hammock between them,” she said, “but they got so big I couldn’t do it.”
She was definitely right. The trees were stout, branches intertwining; heavily bowed, they were laden with huge, ripe fruit hanging in heavy clumps. One tree had already been mostly picked clean, but the other held hundreds more, many the size of softballs and with the blush of a sun-kissed cheek on their golden skins.
My friend Pam kicked off her flip-flops and shimmied up inside the tree, tossing fruit down to me while her ever-curious wirehair dachshund bobbed and weaved the cannonballs that rained down every time Pam reached for a new branch. To get to what she couldn’t reach, we used an old wooden ladder and a grabber (like the kind folks with arthritis use) as we tempted gravity’s mood for some especially gorgeous prizes high up.
We ate fruit as we picked, dripping juice everywhere and raving about how fantastic they were. Sweet, crisp and incredibly juicy, they were the best I’ve ever had. My neighbor’s fondness for calling them “pear-apples” is actually a misnomer, though, because the fruit is not actually a hybrid of pears and apples. It is a pear species in its own right — actually the world’s oldest known cultivated pear — Pyres pyrifolia, native to China, Japan and Korea.
Pam and I managed to fill eight paper grocery bags with good, solid fruit, plus two more bags of bruised fruit for her chickens and two big tubs of too-far-gone specimens for the green bin. When we were done, we shook our heads in disbelief as we saw that half the fruit was still on the tree.
Back home, I lugged out the bathroom scale and stood on it with bags in each hand. The total for my six bags: 95 lbs of fruit. “Good Lord,” I said aloud, “What am I going to do with 95 lbs of Asian pears?”
You aren’t likely to find Asian pear pies or jams because the fruit has such a high water content and a somewhat grainy texture. They also bruise very easily and spoil quickly, especially when they are heaped in a bag, so I knew there was just one answer: make applesauce (umm, pearsauce).
And thus began a two-day marathon of peeling, coring, chopping, simmering, mashing, jar sterilizing and hot bath canning. I made three gallons of Asian pear sauce so perfect and sweet that it needed no sugar, no spice, no nothing. It will make wonderful holiday gifts for neighbors who didn’t get in on the picking.
Even after all the canning, though, I still had two bags of fruit left. At that point, I started pawning them off on anyone who would take them – including the Golden Gate Organics driver who showed up at my house last Tuesday! After setting aside half a dozen to eat myself, I took the last of them to Oakland’s Chabot stables for the horses, who seemed to enjoy them as much as we humans do.
Having fruit trees is a blessing, and witnessing a bumper crop like this one seems nothing short of miraculous. But it can definitely be a challenge to not let the harvest go to waste. Besides inviting folks to come pick every year, my neighbor takes fruit down to a local food bank. The website www.AmpleHarvest.org is an easy way to find a food pantry near you that accepts homegrown produce.
If you live in the East Bay and need help harvesting fruit from your own trees, you can contact People United for a Better Life in Oakland (PUEBLO) at (510) 535-2525 or firstname.lastname@example.org. PUEBLO staff and volunteers will harvest your trees and donate the fruit to low-income seniors in Oakland.
Because more than anything, a good harvest is a gift that is meant to be shared.