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Flowers, Fruits, and Frass

Add pears to your home orchard for their complex flavor and history

pears on a paper tray

A gift-wrapped pear, something rich, delicious, and luxurious.

Have you ever received an ornate paper-ply box filled with this special fruit? Have you ever considered gifting yourself the rooted source? Discover the luxury of growing European pear varieties; they gift a floral show in spring and deliver a beautiful blush harvest in fall. With a storied past, the European pear carries a cultural richness that complements its complex flavor.  

Choose the perfect pear 

When selecting a pear tree for home cultivation, select a variety grown on dwarf or semi-dwarf rootstock. These rootstocks produce mature trees that are 8 to 12 feet tall, ensuring a manageable harvest every year. 

European pears have a very wide harvest window, from late August to mid-October, depending on the variety. Pears are ready to harvest when they release easily from their tree. Pears should not be left to fully ripen on the tree. They require storage for several days to weeks at room temperature to fully ripen and sweeten.  

For success growing pears at home, select pear varieties that are resistant to fire blight. Fire blight is a bacterial disease that devastates pear (and apple) orchards. There is no cure for this disease, only early detection and diligent management to keep it at bay. Luckily, there are a range of pear cultivars bred for fire-blight resistance. 

European pears in America 

Early colonists brought pears to the United States in 1630, but not to eat. The earliest pear orchards were grown for perry, a low-alcohol, pear-based, fermented beverage. It gained popularity in early America as a vital source of refreshment and sustenance. Following settlement, pears became a staple in root cellars of the 18th and 19th centuries for their usefulness in cooking and preserving.   

Grown from California to New York, the great variety of pear cultivars in the U.S. allows most regions local access to this fan-favorite tree fruit. Despite nationwide consumption, commercial pear production is concentrated in Washington, Oregon, and California, with most orchards producing pears for fresh eating. 

Place a winter order for the best selection 

Nurseries market their spring fruit tree selections during the winter months. Keep an eye out for pre-ordering around the holiday season and order early for the best selection. Winter pre-orders ship in spring according to the planting times for your hardiness zone. 

According to Illinois Extension, a list of notable selections include ‘Honeysweet’, ‘Kieffer’, ‘LaConte’, ‘Magness’, ‘Moonglow’, ‘Old Home’, and ‘Starking Delicious’ – these varieties are fire blight-resistant and good-to-great candidates for fresh eating, as well as, great for cooking and storage. Old-World European perry pear varieties that are readily accessible include ‘Barnett,' ‘Hendre Huffcapp,' ‘Theilersbirne,' ‘Thorn,' and ‘Yellow Huffcapp’. These varieties are not suitable for fresh eating, due to high levels of tannins and acids. 

Whether to savor pears fresh from the tree, to ferment them, or to explore their rich history, these trees are a living example of the genius that can exist between nature and the right combination of human stewardship, selection, and care.  

Photo Credit: Packed pears 20090625_0479  by Apple and Pear Australia Ltd is licensed under CC BY 2.0 9.22.23 resized for blog

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Nick Frillman is a local foods and small farms educator serving Livingston, McLean, and Woodford Counties. A fourth-generation graduate from University of Illinois, Frillman has a B.A. with a double major of Political Science and Spanish and a M.S. in Crop Science with a focus on crop production. Before joining Illinois Extension, Frillman completed a field season of CSA and farmers’ market-style production at a small “beyond-organic” vegetable farm in Sandy, Oregon. 

ABOUT THE EDITOR: Liz Repplinger is an agriculture and natural resources program coordinator serving Livingston, McLean, and Woodford Counties. A Bloomington-Normal native, Liz earned a B. A. and M.S. in Animal Science from Illinois State University. She has enjoyed contributing to the multiple facets of Extension including previous support of the 4-H Youth Development Program as a program coordinator and current support of Unit and Statewide Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Initiatives.