Because I am too lazy to keep a daybook, I’m not exactly sure where our mystery pear came from. I used to be in the habit of carrying all kinds of unusual tree seeds around in my pockets or stash little jars of them in the refrigerator (which gained me no points with the missus) or toss loose handfuls in the glove compartment of the car. I had joined the North American Fruit Explorers (NAFEX) in my wild oats sowing days (sowing wild trees in my case) whose members taught me the fun of keeping an eye out for odd or unusual trees and other plants and starting them from seeds or grafts on my own place. Seeds were a whole lot easier. It was one way to get an orchard without spending any money, but of course the drawback was waiting several years for the tree to bear and then finding the fruit wasn’t as good as from a tree bought at a nursery. Seedling trees don’t always bear fruit true to the parent. But the very chanciness of the situation is what increases the fun of it. Sometimes seedlings bear better than the parent.
Anyway I was in the habit of planting odd tree seeds in the corners of my cold frame just to see if they would germinate. I especially was intent on getting some cherry seedlings started since I had noticed down the road that “wild” cherry seedlings were growing up in a fence row near an old tame cherry tree and were making fairly good fruit. But I planted other seeds in the cold frame too, very carelessly, always believing I would remember and almost always forgetting. So when a seedling came up, I was thinking cherry. By the fifth year, when a couple of fruits appeared, I knew better. A pear! And then I remembered that I had planted a few pear seeds too, from a tree growing wild in our tree grove. How it got in the grove I don’t know, but I think it was an escape from a tree on the neighboring property or perhaps from the pioneer orchard that I knew from old records had grown across the road in the 1800s.
The pears were not the same as those on the wild mother tree, which by now had died. They were nothing great in appearance, more roundish than pear-shaped, dull yellow when ripe with sometimes a bit of a red blush. However the flesh was not the least bit gritty as pears often are, but smooth and buttery and sweeter than our Bartlett nearby. The other weird thing was that the buds at the end of the twigs were very pointed and sharp, sort of like thorns. My sister joked that the tree was a prickly pear.
So what’s going on here? I did a little research and learned that there are some 3000 named varieties of pear and that the fruit dates back to ancient times. History tells of pear forests, just as there are apple forests in Kazakhstan today. My overly-active imagination immediately conjured up managed wild fruit forests all over the countryside someday, one of which might mysteriously bear wildly wonderful buttery pears as big as melons and no prickles.
Pears don’t get enough attention. They are easier to grow without spraying than apples and parry is about as good as cider. A Seckel grows on Carol’s home place in Kentucky that is known from family lore to be over a hundred years old. It is a pathetic thing, half dead now, but it goes right on merrily bearing fruit every year. Carol calls it, as she did as a child “the pear patch.” I’ve grafted it onto one of our trees but for that kind of longevity I should try to get a seedling started. At our age, that sounds a little absurd, but when we were first married our landlady was fond of telling us about her father who planted a pear orchard when he was 70. His friends laughed. At age 90, he was enjoying the fruits of his labor and they weren’t.