The fruit of the pear tree is the second most important fruit in the world commercially, after the apple. Cultivated since early ancient times the pear is now grown in the northern and southern hemispheres. Pear trees grow to a height of about 50 feet. Pear trees are very long lived and grow to a great size unless kept pruned. They begin bearing within four to seven years and may continue to yield for 75 years. They have oval bright-green leaves that are pointed at the tip and measure from 2 inches to 4 inches long. The fruit, which contains hard cells called stone cells, is picked while green and hard before it changes colour and ripens.
The fruit is sometimes round, but more often they are tapered at the stem end. When ripe, pears may be yellow, brown, or red. The flesh is usually firm and has a sandy texture and is softer and sweeter than apples. Pears are low in calories and in food value.
In the United States the major pear-producing states are California, Washington, Oregon, and Michigan. About half the yearly crop in the United States is eaten fresh, and the rest is dried or canned. In France about a third is made into an alcoholic drink called perry or pear cider.
Kinds of Pears
There are more than 5,000 varieties of pears, most of which were developed from the common or European pear (Pyrus communis). The variety most widely grown is the Bartlett, which is known in Europe as the Williams Bon Chretien. The Bartlett bears a large yellow fruit with an excellent flavor and texture. Other well-known varieties of the common pear are the Seckel, the Anjou, and the Bosc. The Seckel bears a small sweet yellowish-brown fruit, and the Anjou and the Bosc varieties bear large greenish-yellow fruit.
Another popular pear is the Japanese pear, also called Chinese or sand pear. It is native to China, but it was introduced to the United States in the 19th century. Although the fruit is generally too hard and gritty to be eaten fresh, Japanese pears are used widely in canning and cooking. The Kieffer pear is a hybrid of the Japanese and the common pear. Although Kieffer pears are not as tasty as other pears, the trees produce a large crop, and the fruit keeps well in storage. In Europe the snow pear is grown for use in making cider.
Pears grow best in deep clay soils. Because the trees are easily injured by extreme heat or cold, pears are usually considered a difficult crop to raise.
Most commercial pears are grown by grafting buds or branches onto seedlings. The seedlings, or stocks, are often imported from Europe because European seedlings are generally more resistant to disease than American seedlings. The common pear and the quince are the most commonly used stocks. Quince stock produces a dwarf tree. Its pears are usually of excellent quality, and the trees may bear fruit for 75 years or more.
When the young trees are about half an inch thick and from 4 feet to 6 feet tall, they are transplanted to the orchard in rows about 20 feet apart. The planting generally takes place early in spring. For the next few years the trees are pruned annually, leaving only a few strong branches instead of many weak ones.
Since many varieties of pear are unable to pollinate themselves, two or more varieties are usually planted in the same orchard to ensure cross-pollination, which is necessary for the development of fruit. If the soil is not fertile enough, small amounts of nitrogen fertilizers are added. However, too much fertilizer can cause trees to grow too rapidly, thus reducing their resistance to disease. Mulch, a covering of grass or straw, is often applied to keep the soil cool and moist.
Pears are usually harvested from July to November. They develop their best flavor and texture if they are picked when slightly green and allowed to ripen off the tree. Because the fruit is easily damaged, it must be picked by hand. Although pears do not keep so well as some other fruits, most varieties can be stored for a month or more at temperatures around 32° F. An acre of pear trees yields from 200 to 400 bushels of fruit.