No Partridges In These Pear Trees

December 26, 1990|By Brad Knickerbocker | Brad Knickerbocker,Christian Science Monitor

Ashland, Ore. Take your pick -- Bartlett, Bosc, Seckel, Anjou, Comice. When Take your pick -- Bartlett, Bosc, Seckel, Anjou, Comice. When it comes to pears, the Rogue Valley of southern Oregon is the Garden of Eden. With just the right combination of temperature, moisture and elevation, this corner of the Northwest produces the sweet and succulent fruit like no other place -- more than 50,000 tons this fall.

For George and Barbara Eshoo, this is the time of year when they can sit out on the deck on a sunny afternoon, look down across their orchard toward the Siskiyou Mountains, and reflect on the joys of independent farming. The last of the fruit has been harvested and trucked to market. The "U-Pick" stand has just closed for the season. The trees are headed into dormancy.

But as idyllic as it might seem, there's not much time to relax in the Valley View Orchard. Soon another cycle of hard work begins with the pruning, then the planting of young trees and grafting of shoots into the cambium layer of grandmother rootstocks that have been trimmed of their tired limbs. Then there's the irrigation and spraying for pests, the machinery to keep up, the reports and accounting to keep track of, the weather to worry about.

Mr. Eshoo's biggest bother these days is deer, which nibble the young plants or break them off while rubbing their antlers. "Bambi is not his favorite," quips Mrs. Eshoo. "People get so upset that he doesn't like deer."

Mr. and Mrs. Eshoo bought these 50 acres 23 years ago. The orchard dates back to the descendants of one of the original settlers in the Rogue Valley, and some of the pear trees have been producing for 60 years or more. In the early 1970s, recalls Mrs. Eshoo, three years of killing frost forced them to diversify the orchard. They now grow cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines and apples. But pears -- which have to be treated with greater care and therefore are off-limits to the families and bus loads of school kids who come to pick their own fruit -- are still the main crop.

Years ago, there were hundreds of independent pear growers in this valley. Now there are about two dozen, the rest having sold out to larger outfits like the Bear Creek Corp. (parent company for Harry and David, the nation's leading gift fruit company) or developers who bulldozed them into suburban neighborhoods.

Family farmers in the valley, like the Eshoos, belong to a wholesale cooperative up the road in Medford, which packs, refrigerates and ships the pears to grocers all over the country. Fruit that is not table quality is sold to baby food manufacturers.

The couple's favorite variety of pear is the Comice, which Mrs. Eshoo describes as "so juicy and sweet and wonderful." She cans them for salads or broils them with cinnamon and butter for dessert.

As with most small-scale farming, there's a lot of hard work here and also a lot of faith. The flier for Valley View Orchard includes two biblical quotations that are favorites of Barbara and George Eshoo: "He is able to provide exceedingly abundantly, above all that we ask or think" (Ephesians), and "He that abideth in Me bringeth forth much fruit" (John).

Here is a recipe from the Pacific Bartlett Growers Inc.

Bartlett pear praline pie

Makes one pie.

5 fresh Bartlett pears, cored and sliced

2/3 cup sugar

1/4 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon each grated lemon peel and ground ginger

-- salt

1 (9-inch) unbaked pastry shell

fresh Bartlett pear slices for garnish

whipped cream

Toss pears with sugar, flour, lemon peel, ginger and salt. Sprinkle 1/3 cup praline topping in bottom of pastry shell. Add pear mixture. Sprinkle with remaining praline topping. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 40 minutes. Garnish with pear slices; serve warm with whipped cream.

Praline topping

Combine 1/2 cup packed brown sugar, 1/2 cup chopped pecans and 1/3 cup flour. Cut in 1/4 cup butter or margarine until mixture is crumbly. Makes 1 1/2 cups.

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