I'm happy to report that my friends' pear orchard was undamaged by the typhoon on Friday. I stopped over this weekend to buy pears, send a box off to some friends in Tokyo and briefly chat.
Japanese pears are absolutely wonderful. They are probably my favorite fruit. They are quite different from Bartlett pears and La France pears because they are round and crisp like apples. They are very sweet and juicy and are just delicious to cut into quarters and enjoy chilled. They may not be as versatile as apples, though I've made good pear cake and pear tart. Not enough tanginess to make a good pie I guess and they do boil down and don't hold their shape. Nevertheless, I feel sorry for all you people who will never be able to taste a true Japanese pear! I've seen a couple "Japanese" pears at an outdoor market in California but they don't compare! Small, hard and no flavor. You'll just have to trust me that Japanese pears are delicious!
I have been friends with the Fukudas for nearly twenty years. They are one of the few completely farming families that I've become very close friends with and I love seeing their way of life. Occasionally they'll invite us over for dinner and I remember asking "Do you ever buy anything?" They make their own rice, their own vegetables, they go into the forest and dig up wild vegetables and bamboo shoots. Of course they get their meat and fish from the the supermarket I suppose but they don't really eat much more than what they grow. This is probably no surprise to any of you people living on a farm, but to a citified gal like me, I find it fascinating!
Ok. Back to the pears. During this season the Fukudas spend the mornings picking their fruit and then they and some part time help separate the pears by size and color tone for sale. They have a little stand in their equipment "barn" and people drive up and buy bags of pears or send them off to different parts of Japan as a summer present. I wanted to take some pictures of the orchards so I hiked back to one of them to show get these pictures.
A pear orchard is completely enclosed by netting in order to keep the birds out and in some places monkeys (I don't think the Fukudas have problems with monkeys though...) During the year the tree branches are trimmed and trained along wire so that the branches spread out evenly rather than up. When you are in the orchard you have to bend down and walk in a slump in order not to hit your head on the branches and on the fruit that hangs down. This is hard on the back but it makes it much easier to harvest the pears. Just a quick flip of the wrist and the pear will come off the stem. (For apples you have to use ladders and twist the stems a bit.)
Pear farming is a year long job what with training branches, grafting different species for hardiness, pollinating (by hand and by leasing bee hives from bee farmers!), repairing nets, picking fruit and shipping. I've learned a lot from talking to my pear friends and I appreciate their pears all the more.
"Itadakimasu!" (Bon appetit) (Dig in!)