Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Big Praise for a Little Pear

Is it cruel to recommend Seckel pears when they are can be so maddeningly hard to find?

Seckel pears aren't produce outliers - okay, weirdos - like wasong, for example. (This blog post isn't even a "What the heck is that?"  entry. Seckel pears are mainstream!) So why aren't vendors of Bosc, Bartlett, Comice and other pears selling them?

"It's still the season for them. It's just that we don't plant that many trees," one Union Square Greenmarket farmer told me. His stand had had a nice pile of Seckel pears the previous week. "That's why we don't have them now." He mused for a minute, then added, "They are good though. Huh."

Who knows - maybe I inspired him to consider planting a few more trees. If so, you'll thank me.
Seckels may be the only commercially grown pear that is native to the US - they're believed to be descended from a wild seedling (found near Philadelphia in the 19th century), unlike other pear varieties, which come from European cultivars.

There's also this more complicated version of Seckel pears' origin:
According to some sources, the first Seckel pear tree was discovered growing near the Delaware River in Pennsylvania around 1800. Unlike other varieties developed in the U.S. from a cross or bud spore of other European cultivars, Seckels are thought to have originated as a wild seedling near Philadelphia. This may or may not be true, it is possible/probable that German immigrants traveling westward through the area dropped fruit or left seeds behind. According to the book Industrial History of the United States, from the Earliest Settlements to the Present Time: Being a Complete Survey of American Industries, Embracing Agriculture and Horticulture by Albert Sidney Bolles, the Bishop White narrates a story from his boyhood, circa 1760, that a German cattle-dealer used to sell some small but particularly delicious pears around Philadelphia. Apparently he wouldn’t tell anyone where he got them from. Eventually the cattleman, “Dutch John,” raised the money to buy the parcel of land from which he was poaching the pears eventually selling the farm to a Mr. Seckel. Bolles claims that it is doubtless that the pear tree was a seedling raised by German settlers, but while the Seckel somewhat resembles certain known German varieties, it is distinct from them, and is a strictly American fruit. Another source claims the fruit to be a hybrid of European and Asian varieties. Helen, a volunteer at the soup kitchen told me that they are from Poland so clearly everyone has their own opinion.
I won't care if Seckel pears turns out not to be indigenous to the US. The Seckels' pedigree isn't what charms me.

Nor is it the Seckels' appearance. Yes, they are small - the smallest of the mainstream, commercially grown pears - and cute. Diminutive + round does =  kind of adorable.  They look like they could be these Bosc pears' kids.

But never mind that.

For me, the Seckels' charm is their flavor: honey with a tiny undercurrent of spice. I've only rarely encountered a Seckel with grainy or mealy flesh (perhaps a consequence of having a pool of mostly locally grown fruit.) Because of this, I consider Seckels the most consistently delicious pears.

I am realistic, though. Any produce marketer who sees the appeal of baby vegetables or "Cuties" clementines would be a fool to ignore Seckel pears' diminutive charms. Little hands are a perfect match for these little pears. Tire of fruit after a few bites? Seckels are ready for your Age of Distraction. Seckles' petite size makes them attractive for the cheese plate or the lunch box. I'm happy for any use that spreads the word to build the fan base for these wonderful pears.

Or should I say, almost any use. I draw the line at coating them in raw egg whites and rolling their bottoms in sugar. Blech! That's just culinary bullying - and these sweet little guys deserve much better than that.