ROUND TABLE: Local pears and apples are goodness as basic as ABC

Don’t be alarmed: The hum from my basement in coming weeks is just my bank of fruit dryers.

Now that harvest has hit its stride, I’ll be slicing up the fruit and cranking out those delectable dried scraps of Bosc, Gala, Honey Crisp, Anjou, or Bartlett.

It’s hard to say what way pears and apples taste best: fresh, in pies, or dried. All forms are good, of course. The choices are as varied as the fruit itself. The ABCs of local fruit go well beyond the Anjou, Bartlett Comice big three grown in the Hood River Valley.

There’s something for just about every letter of the alphabet; Delicious, Elstar, Forelle, Gravenstein, Jonagold, Mutsu, Ortley, Packham’s Triumph, Rome Beauty, Seckel, Winesap and more.

The letter H, notably, is the Hanner apple, a golden giant that matures to the size of a small cantaloupe. But overall, the fruit is large this year, the result of sunshine and warm temperatures alternating serendipitously with periods of rain throughout the growing season.

The Comice are the size of softballs, and seen in the Harvest Fest bins from Draper Girls of Mount Hood are Golden Delicious that will challenge the Hanners’ for largest fruit.

Besides its vital economic impact, the orchards in our midst tie us all together as a community. Hood River County is the largest grower of pears in the country, and there is something remarkable in the variety of fruit as well as its quality.

While growers focus largely on the mass marketable varieties of pears and apples, one of the wonders of autumn in our valley is the many smaller or specialty fruit types, the hard-to-find varieties. You won’t find some of these pears anywhere else in the country, and the sharp-eyed buyer can also find fruit that is raised for sale this year only, or from a handful of trees. Local farmers pride themselves on the variety and excellence of their fruit, and that includes the ready availability of rarities.

Growers at Harvest Festival have even been known to bring in samples of fruit they are testing in the orchard. You might get handed a slice of some distinctive pear or apple that Oregon State University scientists and that grower are cooperating on developing for future market expansion. You might like that pear or you might not, and depending on plenty of factors including what kind of response the orchardist gets from people who taste, it’s possible you’ll never taste that variety again.

Which makes my C pear Big-3 — Concorde, Cascade and Comice — taste all the more sweet. (Final note: Get those gems while you can. They dry very nicely indeed.)

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