Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

Patience and Hope.

Posted on | September 11, 2015 | No Comments

Several years ago we bought some pathetic root-bound peach and pear trees from a nursery closing down for the approaching winter.  They were only $5 each and came without any guarantees.  Which was fine because we lacked any open sunny places to plant them.  $5 was all we wanted to spend for trees that we were going to plant in a section of ground that received only filtered sunlight until about 1pm and then scorching heat until sundown.  Since the area also bordered the road, the trees would have to survive exhaust, the reckless mowing of DOT crews in the right-of-way, and the onslaught of any deer that happened to amble by.  The only encouraging sign that a tree might survive under those conditions was that grass grew fairly well in that location.

The peaches folded in the first season.  We cleared around their desolate corpses, brown sticks wrapped with flagging tape, for 3 years.  Because patience and hope are free and, sometimes, surprisingly effective on a farm.  But last summer I finally lifted the dry stalks out of the ground and tossed them into the surrounding woods.  I figured it was a lost cause and, besides, the pear trees were finally warranting some attention.

Both trees leafed out in the first year, but were brutally eaten back by the deer.  The smaller tree still sports angled branches from where the deer snapped them in their feast.

The next year the pear trees blossomed, but the crop was stunted and meager.  The few pears dropped to the ground, covered in spots and eaten by worms.  I considered spraying for pests but the trees were so close to the ditch that I worried about pesticides getting into the run-off water.  I thought about pruning, but my inexperienced cuts seems like the fastest way to kill trees that were beginning to make headway.  So I went with more patience and hope.

By the following year, the trees had figured out that reaching for the limited sun was the way to success.  One of the trees grew branches that were very tall and long—-getting above the shade imposed by nearby pines and limiting the damage of the foraging deer.  But a freakish February snow killed the buds on the trees.  The smaller pear tree faltered.  But the bigger pear tree sprouted lush vibrant leaves that summer and appeared to put all the excess energy not used on growing fruit into gaining more height.

And despite another February snow in 2015, the bigger pear tree blossomed.  It set fruit.  It set a lot of fruit.  So much fruit that by summer the tall long branches bent precariously toward the ground and strayed into the adjacent roadway.

I considered staking the heavy branches to T-posts.  I thought about supporting them with ties to the main trunk.  But I imagined the branches cracking off in my hands as I straightened them, the pears lost and the tree damaged.  Then I realized patience and hope had carried that pear tree a long, long way.  Who was I to intervene now?  So I waited and watched.  I expected the pests to arrive.  I assumed the deer would decimate the low-hanging fruit.  I worried the branches would snap.  Because my version of hope is always tempered with frightening bursts of realism.

But the branches held.  The fruit ripened unmolested.  The pear tree’s hope was pure and relentless.

On occasion, I tested the pears for ripeness but they stayed firm and green.  A hint of blush finally developed on some of the skins but the flesh refused to yield—-I had no idea if the pears would continue to mellow or if they were getting overripe and ready to spoil .  The neighbors began to notice the fruit.  People called and asked if those were my pears hanging in the road and, by the way, were they ripe yet?  Little went back to school in July and the bus driver repeatedly mentioned how much she loved pears.  I began to check the fruit daily.  Because I wanted to beat the desperate hordes to the bounty.  And because the pears were so perfect.  So beautiful.  So amazing.

When I couldn’t resist any longer, I plucked a pear and bit into it.  The skin was still fibrous and the flesh was crisp, but the taste, oh, the taste!  After a few bites I still couldn’t tell if the pear was so luscious that the juices exploded in my mouth when I bit down or if the flavor was so delectable that my taste buds instantly salivated in response.  I peeled a few for the kids to have alongside their Parmesan Zucchini and Spaghetti Squash with Pine Nuts (plus Bacon) at dinner and their reactions were mixed.  Two loved them and two complained that they were too crunchy.  I figured they were accustomed to mushy varieties like Bartlett from the grocery store, but what were the crisp pear-apples our tree was producing?  And were they really ripe or not?????

When an afternoon thunderstorm tumbled a bunch of fruit to the ground, I seized the opportunity and placed a handful of firm pears in a brown paper bag—-my usual trick for ripening rock-hard Bartletts from the grocery store if I needed to use them soon.  Five days later my pears were still solid and green.  And a quick internet search for pears that stay green and firm even when ripe revealed that my pears were probably Anjous and they had plenty of uses including salads, sides, and desserts.  So, of course, I started with the desserts.  Because life is too short to start with the salads.  I mean, what if you started using the pears for salad and ran out of pears before you got to the desserts???  (Shudder.)

I tried this pear pie recipe, mainly because it claimed to have the “easiest” homemade pie crust.  The crust was easy and the pie was delicious.

Next up will be the pear pie bars and caramelized pears (over ice cream, maybe?).  The kids and I are taking a salad of greens, spinach, cranberries, pecans, red onion, and pears topped with vinaigrette to work and school for lunch.  And this week’s tortilla wraps will be Crunchy Pear and Celery Salad.  If I still have enough pears, I’ll just slice them thin and dry them in the dehydrator for pear chips.

Turns out that patience and hope tastes scrumptious.  Who knew?

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