Favorite Fall Things
Posted: November 5, 2012
At my local market, these “honey” or “sugar” pears appear only in the fall. These chubby little pears are the smallest of commercially-grown varieties, but big on really sweet juicy flavor. The fruit is a rounded oval shape, with a small neck, short stem, and smooth green skin often blushed with deep maroon brown. ‘Seckel’ pears don’t change color as they ripen. Select fruit that is firm; when the stem end softens, the pear is ripe. Great for fresh eating, they are the perfect size for a lunchbox; but they can also be baked into tarts or cookies, or preserved whole as “baby pears.”
‘Seckel’ pears have been in cultivation since about 1790, one of the relatively few varieties thought to have originated in America, found as a chance seedling near Philadelphia, although it is also possible seeds were dropped by European Immigrants traveling westward. In any case, Thomas Jefferson planted “sickle” pears in 1807 and called them “the finest pear I’ve tasted since I left France & equaled the best pear there.”
The trees are vigorous, hardy, and consistent bearers of good crops. They are somewhat self-fertile, and resistant to fireblight and other common pear diseases, so would make a good addition to a home orchard.
This is one of my favorite shrubs, related to citrus plants such as oranges and lemons, for year-round garden interest. Hardy orange (Poncirus trifoliata) reaches about 8 to 15 feet in height and grows well in average, well-drained soil in sun to light shade. Mine is growing under a black locust tree that provides a home to honeybees, and all seem to get along very nicely.
Hardy orange has bright green stems, attractive glossy green leaves made up of three leaflets (trifoliate), really formidable thorns (great if you need to create an impenetrable hedge, but dangerous otherwise), lovely white flowers in spring with some re-blooming in mid-summer, and in fall, lots of little orangey-yellow fruits that look like miniature oranges, about 1½ inches in diameter. They drop off the shrub when ripe, so they are easy to collect; I like to gather them and scatter piles around the garden or spill them out of a tipped terracotta pot. By next spring, I’ll have many little seedlings popping up; so if you want one, let me know. My shrub was given to me by a Master Gardener who collected fruit from hardy orange shrubs that once grew at the Capitol Building in Harrisburg.
I bring some inside also to decorate around the house. The fruit has a pleasant feel, with slightly soft downy skin, and a sharp citrusy aroma. It is edible, but not very palatable, with a sharp, bitter flavor, many seeds, and little pulp. I tried one and thought it tasted just like a lemon, but my daughter found it more sour than a lemon. It gets juicier if left to sit for a few weeks. The zest can be used for flavoring and in drinks; the peel can be candied; and the pulp can be made into marmalade. But since it would require a whole boatload of hardy orange fruits to yield a jar of jam, I prefer to just enjoy its ornamental qualities on the shrub or in hand.