Foraging for Fall pears

We've been gathering windfall pears from an abandoned tree. Until a week ago the ground beneath the tree was alive with hundreds of yellow jackets chewing on the fallen fruit. During October, I filled three 50-lb grain sacks with pears from the ground and fed them to the pigs.

This weekend we targeted the last of the fruit, which was still impossibly hanging onto their stems after the powerful gusts of Hurricane Sandy. We brought a 12-foot bamboo pole and some friends and took turns knocking fruit out of the tree and scrambling around capturing them as they rolled down the hillside. A few were caught as they fell. More than a few came close to nailing someone in the head. It was a rather inelegant way to harvest, but it was easy and fun. The once-quiet forest was alive with whoops, cheers and laughter. 40-pounds of pears later, we left with no yellow jacket stings, no bruised heads and only a few damaged pears. At home the wood stove warmed the house as we prepared a quick meal of venison tacos, then lingered over pears baked in maple syrup and butter served over vanilla ice cream.

Crisp fresh pears baking

There are still pears out there, 20- to 30-feet high in the old tree. They will eventually fall and become treats for deer, raccoons or skunks. We'll make the most of our free, organic fruit, and enjoy it in gratitude for whoever planted that tree and cared for it many years ago. As we plant and care for our own fruit trees, it's pretty neat to think that some day, long after we are gone, someone might happen upon a gift of peaches or apples or maybe even pears.

Maple-Baked Pears

adapted from The Rodale Whole Foods Cookbook

6 pears, cored and sliced

1/4 cup maple syrup

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 Tbs butter, plus more for the pan

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9- by 13-inch baking pan. Arrange pear slices in the pan. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt butter with vanilla extract and maple syrup, then pour over pears. Bake for 15-minutes, stirring frequently, until the pears are tender. Serve immediately or chilled over yogurt or ice cream.

delicious dented ugly pearFootnote: Foraged food, like home-raised food, does not always grow in the perfect shape, nor arrive in the perfect state of ripeness. Many local consumers are not accustomed to imperfect fruit, as those specimens are disposed of (composted, given to livestock farmers, or just thrown away) at the farm, the distributor or the grocery store. Raising pigs has made us very appreciative of these discards, while raising gardens has made us willing to work with whatever the plants give us, bad spots, funny shapes or what-have-you. The untended pear tree gave us fruits in a variety of sizes and states of ripeness. Many suffered dents from growing too densely on the limb. When we knocked down our first pears our 7-year-old helper picked one up, said "YUCK!" and threw it back on the ground. She didn't like the dent, but quickly learned to overlook this imperfection after watching the other bags filling. welcomes thoughtful comments and the varied opinions of our readers. We are in no way obligated to post or allow comments that our moderators deem inappropriate. We reserve the right to delete comments we perceive as profane, vulgar, threatening, offensive, racially-biased, homophobic, slanderous, hateful or just plain rude. Commenters may not attack or insult other commenters, readers or writers. Commenters who persist in posting inappropriate comments will be banned from commenting on