Monday, August 24, 2009

Kieffer pears

The most productive tree in my neglected, semi-wild orchard is the Kieffer pear tree. Last year it was loaded with pears, like the apple trees; this year, the apple trees have no apples, but the pear tree has pears.

Kieffers are old-timey pears that country people in the South have grown for decades. I remember one at my grandmother's farm. In September, they are hard and the flesh is grainy, not too sweet, but if you pick them and bring them inside to ripen, in a few weeks the flesh becomes sweet and soft.

They are reputed to be the best pears for canning and preserving, because they are firm and don't turn to mush. I canned a lot of them last fall (because school in Houston was delayed by Hurricane Ike, and I had most of September off). I haven't canned any this fall because you are supposed to let them ripen a bit before canning them, and I probably won't have time before I go back to Houston. I will store them in a drawer in the refrigerator and hope for the best. Maybe there will be some to eat and can when I return in December. I read that Edna Lewis, the famous cookbook writer and expert on Southern food, loved Kieffer pears and wrote about them in her books.

Yesterday I made a salad with firm, semi-ripe Kieffer pears, cucumbers, blueberries, almonds, a little dill relish, and mayonnaise. It was unorthodox, but delicious.

Another good thing about Kieffer pears is that the tree is fire-blight resistant. Fire-blight is a disease that afflicts a lot of pear trees: it causes some of the branches to look as if they've been burned, because they turn black. But Kieffers don't get this disease. Perhaps this, plus the long-term storage capability of the fruit, explains why Kieffer pears have been so popular in the South for so long.

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