The end of August marks the beginning of the growing season for those nectarous, delicate orchard fruits we know as pears. With over 3000 varieties in unique shapes and colors cultivated worldwide, the ubiquitous pear is native to temperate climates of the Old World, virtually anywhere that tends to remain mild and somewhat rainy across Europe, Northern Africa, and Asia. Its versatility and relatively long storage life made this sweet “butterfruit” ideal for trade as well as popular on the dinner plate, whether as a simple snack or part of a decadent meal.
In fact, pear’s prestige dates back to ancient times, with The Odyssey’s Greek author Homer proclaiming it as a “gift of the gods” and Romans worshipping the goddess of fruit, Pomona, so named for the Latin word for orchard fruit such as the pear. Renaissance artists frequently featured pears in their work, and the popularity of the fruit continued to thrive through the 1700s and eventually journeyed to the New World where it made its way to the Northwestern corner of the United States via the Lewis and Clarke Trail.
As it turns out, the pear tree flourishes in the rich volcanic soil and temperate, European-like climate of Washington and Oregon, the latter of which named the pear its official state fruit in 2005. Pear’s prominence also extends into December (named National Pear Month just last year) as many carolers chime in on the first and most repetitious line of “Twelve Days of Christmas” about the gift of a partridge in a pear tree. Although the growing season for most varieties of pears tends to wane around March, some like the Anjou or Bose varieties will continue to produce until mid-summer, so we can enjoy pears almost year-round!