too many words by laura lemay

Fruit of Mystery

I have a big yard. So big, in fact, that after 15 years living here I am still finding fruit trees lurking in the underbrush.

Up in the area we call “the meadow” there are a handful of really old pear trees. We get small pears every other year or so, but the fruit disappears before it gets ripe. I assume that squirrels are getting to them. I don’t especially like pears so I’ve never really kept on top of it.

This year I discovered a little tree right at the edge of the meadow that had little round fruits on it. I thought they were crab apples. I had tasted one a month or so ago, and again today, and it was so tart and tannic that I had to spit it out.

Yesterday I harvested all of the remaining fruits from the tree, and brought them home.

Here’s where I get confused. Those aren’t apples. Apples have a shoulder — the indent between the stem and the fruit on all apples. They’re also especially green for crab apples, which tend to be red or at least have a red “blush” when they turn ripe. These fruits are entirely green, with heavy russeting (a thick brown skin) and long stems with no shoulder.

I spent a good portion of the day googling, and I’m still not 100% sure what kind of fruit these are. They aren’t apples, and they aren’t quince (an exceptionally tart apple-like fruit). I think they may be old european wild pears. The wild pear was commonly used as a rootstock for domestic pears at the turn of the century, and it is not unusual (especially for old trees) for the grafted top of a pear to die off and the rootstock take over.

Sadly this means that these pears are probably inedible. Although they would probably make excellent pear cider. I used to make big batches of (hard) apple cider every year, so cider pears would not be unwelcome.

I put the mystery pears into the fridge; some pears need chilling to ripen. We’ll see if these soften up and turn sweeter.