GROWING EUROPEAN PEARS
A pear is a sweet edible fruit produced by a pear tree (Pyrus communis). The cultivation and grafting of pear trees can be traced back thousands of years to ancient China. Pears, along with peaches and apricots, were considered a delicacy for the wealthy and noble families. Pear grafting would spread westward along the silk road and be adopted by the Greeks, Persians, and Romans who considered the pear literally a "divine fruit". Pears would remain a dominant force in Europe, seeing a huge flourishing of pear varieties through the 17th and 18th century. Early settlers in America planted out orchards on the east coast until wide spread blight would make pears too difficult to grow. Fortunately, pioneers heading west took pear trees with them and established some of the most successful pear orchards in the Pacific Northwest, where pears are well suited to the unique growing conditions in Washington and Oregon. Pear trees are now grown worldwide and there are a great many pears varieties just as specialized as the environments they grow in, so it’s important to choose the one that is right for your area and needs.
Choosing a Variety
Grafted European pears are all similar sizes that can be maintained at approximately 15' to 20' tall.
European pears can be split into three groups: summer pears, winter pears, and cider pears with different uses and qualities.
Summer pears ripen in early to mid summer and are meant to be eaten fresh or shortly after being picked. Summer pears do not tend to keep as long as winter pears, but are available earlier in the year and do not require storage to enjoy their best flavor and texture. When your summer pears start dropping from the tree they can be picked and allowed to ripen fully in a bowl on your countertop.
Winter pears ripen late summer through fall and are meant to be picked while they are still hard and green. Most winter pears require some time in cold storage, at least a month at 40-45 degrees Fahrenheit, to develop their best texture and flavor profiles. Once they have matured in cold storage they will ripen from the inside out at room temperature over a period of 5-7 days. Winter pears have the advantage of unique flavors and textures unavailable in summer pears, as well as their ability to keep long after the harvest season is over.
Cider pears, or "Perry pears", while not nearly as popular as cider apples, have been in cultivation in France and England since before the 16th century in areas cider apples do not grow well. Cider pears are often hard, tannin rich, and slow to rot - making them excellent for cider making as they can all be gathered and processed at the same time.