Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
from the July 15, 2012 Newsletter issued from the woods of the Loess Hill Region a few miles east of Natchez, Mississippi, USA
For the last couple of weeks my cuisine has been dominated by pears because trees in the orchard here are loaded with them. I eat them raw but mostly each day I cut at least six into my cornbread batter, so that now my main carbohydrate is more pear cobbler than cornbread. These pears are unlike those found in markets. I'd never seen anything like them until I came into this area. They're more spherical than "pear shaped," and even when ripe they are more greenish than yellow. They are so hard and gritty that most local people I've talked to don't eat them. However, they're juicy and sweet, are delicious when cooked, and soften into an appealing texture. Above you can see two typically green-mottled, only slightly yellowish fruits on a tree.
During my hermit days in the woods of an old, historical plantation near Natchez, in a very old orchard where records showed that once a remarkable variety of fruit trees had been grown, when I was there everything had died back except the figs, two or three apple varieties who were diseased and just hanging on, and this hard, green, spherical, gritty pear cultivar, which produced as prodigiously there as here. All along I've guessed that this pear is an old heirloom with disease resistance and toughness enough to thrive in our hot summers, but I've never been able to identify its cultivar name. This week I set about to learn its identity.
The first step was to ask Karen if she remembered what the guy told her who provided the saplings when she planted them here many years ago. "Pineapple Pear," she replied, admitting in the same breath that she's never detected anything pineapplish about the fruit. I looked the name up on the Internet.
Many businesses sell "Pineapple Pear Trees" but the fruits produced by those trees are yellow and pear-shaped. Some pages give the technical name for that yellow, pear-shaped "Pineapple Pear" as Pyrus communis 'pineapple.' Still, among the dozens of Pineapple-Pear pages showing that yellow, pear-shaped fruit, a very few show what appears to be ours. Those pictures are mostly posted by others who have heard their pears called Pineapple Pears, but who are confused by seeing Internet pictures of Pineapple Pears that are yellow and pear-shaped.
Finally I found a grower in Florida, Chestnut Hill Tree Farm, featuring our pear, designating it as a hybrid between Pyrus communis and Pyrus pyrifolia. Its technical name therefore would be PYRUS COMMUNIS x PYRIFOLIA. Pyrus communis is the basic pear from which most pear cultivars are developed, while Pyrus pyrifolia is a much less known species variously called the Asian, Chinese, Japanese or Sand Pear. Both species are native to Eurasia. The Asian Pear's fruits are spherical like ours, but golden instead of greenish. Chestnut Hill describes the hybrid between the two species as "a hard pear, that bears heavy crops of large, tangy pineapple-like flavored fruit -- good for cooking, canning or fresh eating. Fire blight resistant. Self-pollinating. Low chill (250 hours) for the coasts south to central Florida and coastal Texas. Bears in August."
That all sounds right for our pear, except that ours doesn't taste like pineapple and it's bearing in July. But here this year everything has developed weeks earlier than normal. One blogger apparently referring to our green pear says that it's called Pineapple because its mottled greenness with a slight tinge of yellowness is similar to that of a pineapple.
So, on the basis of having found this cultivar in an old-time orchard, and on what the Chestnut Hill folks say, here's what I'm guessing to be our pear's history: In the old days our green, spherical, hard, gritty pear was the original Pineapple Pear, planted mostly for canning and cooking. That original cultivar, a simple hybrid, gained fame as thriving in the US Deep South. Later horticulturalists came up with a new, only distantly related cultivar that also thrived in the Deep South, and they called it Pineapple Pear, maybe wanting to benefit from the fame of the original Pineapple Pear's name. Apparently the old Pineapple Pear name was purely traditional and never was formalized or protected by copyright law.
In our picture, the hole in the pear at the right is typical. Maybe 95% of our trees' almost-mature pears bear such holes, which are drilled by Red-bellied Woodpeckers who prefer drilling new holes in unblemished pears over continuing pecking in already-made holes. The trees are also much visited by Mockingbirds, Cardinals and Blue Jays, whom I suspect of pecking in woodpecker holes.
Here's one last bit of information relating to pear growing in the Natchez area: A neighbor said that of all the cultivars he's tried the only one that survives here is the LeConte. He didn't know about our Pineapple Pear heirloom, however, having learned his pomology at local garden centers.