Could a pear named "Best Ever" possibly live up to its boastful name? It's been a long time coming, but fruit-curious Southern Californians now have a chance to taste for themselves a pear with a rich, spicy, vinous flavor.
Bred by Frank Reimer near Medford, Ore., in 1935, Best Ever is a cross of the prized Comice pear with an obscure French variety called Louis Pasteur. It's not a great beauty — the skin is green mottled with a fine russet color — but it artfully blends the buttery texture, sweetness and juiciness of Comice and the unique flavor of Louis Pasteur, which the great pomologist U.P. Hedrick described as "very fine, melting and sugary, sprightly and perfumed."
Best Ever is harvested in September but ripens in January and has the rare virtue of storing well as late as May.
Why is it showing up here now for the first time? Pear trees are very slow to bear fruit — "plant pears for your heirs," goes an old adage — so pear growers are extraordinarily conservative in introducing new varieties.
But in the 1980s Mike Thorniley, a farmer in Talent, Ore., fell in love with Reimer's hybrid at the nearby Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, named it "Best Ever" and planted two acres. His neighbor Ron Meyer took over the orchard when Thorniley retired, and in 2007 planted another eight acres, which are now finally reaching full production.
Meyer is still the only Best Ever grower. Previously the crop was so small that he sold it all to markets in San Francisco and Texas, but he now has enough that fruit will go on sale this Saturday at Gelson's, at $2.49/lb.
The pears will be available for just a few weeks, said John Fujii, the chain's produce supervisor. The fruits are ripe when they give slightly to gentle pressure at the stem end; don't let them get "sleepy," the English term of art for overripe pears.