Pears in the garden and the kitchen

A gardener and a chef team up to give advice on how to grow and prepare pears.

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    This pear tart isn't sweet; it's a savory treat redolent with caarmelized onions and balsamic vinegar, and oozing with gruyere cheese.
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Back on the farm when I (Anne) was growing up, there was a twisted, half-dead, gnarly old pear tree that stood sentinel at the head of the vegetable garden. Every year it blossomed and put out a respectable number of pears.

Since this tree didn’t have a pollinator within 40 to 50 feet, it most likely was a European pear (Pyrus communis), not an Asian (Pyrus pyrifolia) or Oriental hybrid, since these latter two are self-sterile and need a pollinator.

Full grown pear trees can get up to 20 feet tall and wide, so they need some space. There are options for the small backyard grower in USDA Zones 5 to 9, however. Semi-dwarf trees top out at 12 to 18 feet, and dwarf pear trees can be as short as 8 feet. These smaller varieties often will produce just as many pears as the standard size.

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Pear tree care is simple. It involves fertilizing once a year, in springtime, and minimal pruning in winter to maintain an open crown.

Planting a pear tree

When planting a pear tree, select a site in full sun with plenty of room for the tree to grow upward. Always look for overhead power or telephone lines before you choose a planting site. The soil should be a bit on the acid side, pH 7 or lower. In warm and humid areas, select trees bred for fire blight resistance.

Dig a hole wide enough to spread the roots out, but the hole should be only as deep as the root ball, with the graft (a swollen area near the root ball on dwarf and semi-dwarf trees) 2 to 3 inches above the soil. If you dig the hole too deep, the settling of the tree after planting can result in a short life since planting too low is a huge contributor to trees dying for no apparent reason.

You should have fresh pears from your trees three to five years after you plant. There will be plenty to try Chef Linda’s recipe for Pear Tart:

Savory pear tart

This pear tart is not about sweet, says Chef Linda, but savory with balsamic vinegar, caramelized onions, fresh Bosc pear, and ready-made puff pastry. It oozes with smoky gruyere cheese.

Pear Tart

Caramelized onions:

1/2 tablespoon butter

1/2 tablespoon mild olive oil

2-1/2 cups thinly sliced red onion

3 sprigs fresh thyme

Salt to taste

1/2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Pepper to taste

Heat the butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until sizzling. Add the onions, thyme sprigs, and salt to taste. Turn the heat down to medium and cook, stirring often, until onions are golden brown. Add balsamic vinegar and cook for another minute. Pepper to taste. Remove from heat, take out the thyme stems, and set the onions aside.

Puff pastry

1/2 of (17.3 ounce) package frozen puff pastry, thawed in the refrigerator

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. On a floured board, roll the puff pastry until it is about 10-inches-by-10-inches. Place the pastry on a parchment-lined baking sheet and put back in the fridge until ready to use.

Putting it together

1 teaspoon country-style Dijon mustard

1-1/4 cups smoky gruyere cheese, freshly grated

Caramelized onions

Fresh Bosc pear, cut into cubes

1 to 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

Fresh thyme

Sea salt and pepper to taste

Remove the prepared puff pastry from the fridge. Brush the mustard onto the bottom of the tart, to within 1/2 inch of the sides. Sprinkle the grated gruyere over the mustard. Add the caramelized onions over the cheese. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, depending on your oven. When you think it's ready, slightly lift the bottom of the tart to make sure that it is lightly browned and not soggy.

While the tart is baking, chop the pear into 1-inch pieces and pour the orange juice over the pieces to keep pear from turning brown. Drain.

Remove the tart from the oven and place as much pear as you would like on the tart. If you have any pear pieces left over, save for another use.

Sprinkle a small amount of sea salt and freshly ground pepper on the top of the tart before serving. Serves 4.

Editor's Note: To read more of Anne and Linda's "how to grow and prepare" series, click here.

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Linda Weiss and Anne K. Moore met while Linda was the food editor and Anne was the garden editor for South Carolina Homes & Gardens magazine. They now write articles for the ETV GardenSMART television show website, where Anne is the horticulture editor, gardening consultant, and e-newsletter editor. Anne has written for magazines and newspapers. She is a member of and a recipient of a Silver Award for magazine writing from the Garden Writers Association. Linda is a personal chef. She attended Le Cordon Bleu of Paris’ catering program, has appeared as a guest chef on numerous television shows, has been a culinary educator for 10 years, and a food writer for a number of magazines. She is a professional member of The James Beard Foundation and the Southern Foodways Alliance. She has also written a cookbook, "Memories From Home, Cooking with Family and Friends."

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