Book Review

The Great Book of Pears

by Barbara Jeanne Flores

Ten-Speed Press, Berkeley, Calif., 2001. $16.95, 4 x 10, paper, color, 176 pages, ISBN 1-58008-036-7.
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Reviewed by Bob Allen (5/2001)

Subtitled "A Gourmet and Garden Guide from Rediscovered Heirlooms to Modern Favorites," The Great Book of Pears really has two authors besides Barbara Jeanne Flores. Familiar to many CRFGers, they are Lucy Tolmach, Director of Horticulture at the Filoli Estate in Woodside, Calif., and C. Todd Kennedy, a leading California fruit preservationist and historian as well as a longtime CRFG member. Lucy contributed a chapter, "Growing and Harvesting Pears in the Home Garden," in a Q&A format with illustrations on budding technique. Todd provided a chapter, "The Pear Collection." It describes European, American and Asian pears, and is complete with beautiful photographs, as well as useful information about identification and tasting.

Twenty percent of book-sale royalties will go toward the preservation of heirloom fruit varieties at Filoli Estate, a property of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Expert tips from Filoli gardeners on growing and cultivating rare heirloom pears include a section in the book called "Step-by-Step Budding Technique."

Rootstock sources are listed. One major scion resource cited is the exchange held each January by CRFG’s Santa Clara Valley chapter. There I obtained scionwood for White Doyenné, my favorite in recent years at the Filoli Fall Festival. This pear is also one of the author’s favorites. She introduces her book with "In Search of the White Doyenné."

Here is her description of it: "I picked up a small yellow pear shaped like a little turban that yielded slightly to my touch. The bag [how she and photographer Susanne Kaspar packaged them for the shoot] read White Doyenné. I bit into it. It melted in my mouth. The taste was more like a fine, rich buttery chardonnay than any pear I had tasted. Like wine, it was sweet yet tart, with musky undertones and a strong perfume. Never in my life had I tasted fruit like that! I had eaten good juicy peaches from a Georgia fruit stand and wonderful mangos on a stick in Mexico, but nothing like this."

That was the good news. The bad news was that to taste these pears again, one must wait until next year’s tasting at Filoli. The alternative is to grow them yourself.

The Great Book of Pears is the only book with full-color identification photographs of over 50 pear varieties, from Bartlett to modern hybrids, Asian pears and treasured heirlooms. There are dozens of recipes, including Poire Belle Hélène (poached pears in chocolate sauce) and innovative new dishes like Bette’s Pear Chutney or Grilled Bartletts with Gingered Pork Chops. The recipes are provided by Lindsey Shere, Mark Miller, Caprial Pence, and other chefs of distinction.

I highly recommend this book to CRFGers and others interested in learning more about the wide range of pears still available.

Bob Allen on Pear-Growing Experiences

In my own experiences with growing pears, I have enjoyed more success than I expected. My property sits on a former apricot orchard in Santa Clara Valley, about 20 miles south of Filoli Estate. Winter chill at my site is occasionally insufficient in comparison to what the literature suggests for pears.

I got into pear growing more or less through the back door. As a yard-warming gift some 20 years ago, and long before I had heard of CRFG, Chinese friends gave my wife and me a Twentieth-Century Asian pear tree. My reading suggested that I would need a pollenizer for it. Not yet officially a rare-fruit enthusiast at the time, I nevertheless tended to seek out the unusual. Even so, I dutifully bought a Bartlett pear tree, not particularly rare but recommended in the Dave Wilson catalog as a pollen source for Asian pears, then planted the two in close proximity. Of the two, I prefer the Bartlett.

In the meantime, I have added several Asian pears, which grow very well in my microclimate. They include Hosui (based on tastings reported in Sunset magazine), Shinko, Seuri, and Korean Giant--the last three based on suggestions from CRFG members. From among European and American pear varieties, I bought a Seckel from Sonoma Antique, a Rousselet de Reims and a Magness from Southmeadow, an Elizabeth and a Gorham from the estate of Emil Linquist and a Rescue at a meeting of the Santa Clara Valley chapter. I am still trying to determine how to properly ripen these various pears and whether they are best for eating fresh or cooked. As a case in point, I have found the Rousselet difficult to ripen properly.

In 2000, I picked my entire crop of Rousselet de Reims earlier than usual--in August--and decided because of their slightly grainy texture to try using most of them in a ginger-pear marmalade of my own devising. According to Todd Kennedy’s description, the Rousselet was the favorite pear of King Louis XIV of France, and a parent of the Seckel, which was developed near Philadelphia. My experience using Rousselet in the recipe below confirms that it is better used for candying and desserts, rather than for eating fresh.

Ginger-Pear Marmalade

Pears are quartered and poached in apple cider, then transferred to a food mill for processing in the same way as apples for applesauce. The processed mixture is returned to the preserving kettle, and the next three ingredients are added. Cook until the sugar dissolves and a small quantity sets up when put on a plate in the freezer for a few minutes. Add the liqueur, if you wish, and process the jars in the usual way. Yield: approximately 10 half-pints.