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Produce Profile by Mark "Guido The Gardner" ® Ferro
Bartlett Pears--The Other Summer Fruit
Late summer and early fall usually features apples at the starting gate.

The fantastic, fresh picked, California natives are currently in the markets, and the Washington contingent has also begun.

Now I bear no ill will against apples. I eat orchards full of them all year long. But after the crunch and munch of even a fine apple, I'm satisfied. But when I sink my pearly whites into a ripe, buttery smooth pear- I'm quite desirous of more please!

Maybe it's the Italian in me, but I think pears have an almost sensuous texture to them. When properly ripened, a pear can taste juicy, like an apple, but creamy, more like a mango. And depending on the variety, your taste buds can detect just a whisper of spiciness. A heck of a combo!

The most common pear, the Bartlett, has about two-thirds of the total commercial market. It also happens to be the first one to reach the market place. They start picking Bartlett's out of the Sacramento River area in mid-July (river fruit), with the bulk of production following in August from Lake county (mountain fruit) .

It seems with every produce item, there is always debate as to what region produces the best, biggest, smartest, juiciest "what-ever-it-is". With pears, the first picked "river" fruit is a good pear. But it sometimes gets hurried to market before its time. That does not do this particular Pyrus communis justice.

Lake County fruit, which you are welcome to feast upon now, does not have to blaze that pear trail every year. As a result, this fruit can hang on the tree a bit longer which gives it more sugar. The warm days and cooler nights of the regions higher elevation also helps the fruit develop a more rounded flavor. Advantage: mountain fruit.

Growers are done picking both river fruit and mountain fruit. "Oh my! Am I too late? Does this mean that the perfect pear will not pass my pucker this pear period?" Fret ye not, oh pear pickers. For the pear that is fresh plucked from the branch 'tis not fit for bovine fodder (or mudder, for that matter).

Pears are an odd lot. On the branch, they become mature, which in this case is the ability to ripen. But they actually ripen and become soft and juicy, off the tree. (They get quite mealy if left on the branch too long.) So even though all of the Bartlett's are packed away, the storage they go through is essential to their texture and flavor.

California, Oregon and Washington account for virtually the entire U.S. pear crop. This fruit used to be grown in many other parts of the country, most notably the East. But unfortunately a killer disease called fire blight has taken its toll on the pear tree population over the years. This disease is most common in warm humid climates and turns blossoms, twigs and eventually entire trees-black, like they have been scorched.

When you are fruit shopping, pick a pear that shows some green if you won't need it for a couple of days. On the other hand, pick a yellow Bartlett for quick consumption! Pears ripen from the core to the skin so judge the firmness in the area right around the stem. If it gives a little-fine. If it gives lots-it will be very soft at the core.

To ripen them at home, set them in a warm spot, but out of direct sunlight. (No already picked fruit responds well to direct sunlight) Popping them in a paper bag will speed things up. Keep in mind that cold temperature will slow down, not stop, ripening. So you may have to juggle them between the outside to the inside of the ice box.

The pear season is a long one as the last Washington State D'anjous don't clean up from cold storage till June.

A Pear P.S. -In other parts of the world, the Bartlett pear is known as the Williams pear. In the early 1800's a New England chap, named Mr. Bartlett, bought some land and sold a tasty pear variety that was growing on said dirt. He named it after himself even though in Europe, it already had the Williams moniker. From time to time in my work travels, I'll spot a box full of Chilean or Argentinean grown Bartlett's, with the name "Williams" printed on the side. Curious biz!