Thursday, March 20, 2014

Fruit Trees on the Prairie

Sand hill plum branch
Very few trees managed to survive the frequent prairie fires that raced unstopped across the open range, but the stubborn thickets of sand hill plums managed to survive and spread, living long enough before they were overtaken by a prairie fire to produce fruit.  When the early settlers arrived to claim homesteads, they were grateful for the hard little plums from which to make jellies and to savor the taste of fresh fruit in season, despite the small amount of pulp around the hard central seed.

Once they could plant a garden, melons were added to the seasonal fruits they enjoyed, but it took a while for fruit trees to be planted and grow to the size necessary to produce fruit.  Even with his fruit trees, Isaac Werner looked forward to the seasonal plums and melons.

When I was young, my father bought a quarter-section of land just west of our farm.  The sons of the family who had lived there when my father was a boy, the Kennedy family, had not returned to the farm, and they leased the land to be farmed by Glen DeGarmo.  When Glen died, they sold the land to my father and they sold the old house to someone who moved it to a new location about a mile north and a half mile west of Pratt, off Hwy 281.  Left behind were the old trees, and among them a trio of pear trees.  Every summer, my mother and I would go there to pick the pears for pear butter.  The trees were very old, and there were fewer pears on them each summer, but there were always enough for a few jars of pear butter.

Pear Varieties
Mother stopped taking the effort to make pear butter after my brother and I were no longer at home, but one summer I was home during pear picking season and we went over to gather some pears.  There were none.  We assumed the old trees were no longer able to bear fruit, although we did check occasionally for a few years if I happened to be at the farm during the right season.

One year I was visiting at the time Mother had a farm women's club meeting, and I went with her as her guest.  I happened to be seated next to a lady who had moved into the community after I left home, and she and her husband were my parents' nearest neighbors to the north.  As we were visiting, I was enjoying getting to know one of Mother's friends, and somehow the conversation drifted to jelly making, and I spoke of the sand hill plum jelly we always made.  She was so excited to tell me about her own jelly making since moving into the community,  and she began describing the three old pear trees she had discovered at a deserted homestead from which she had made wonderful pear butter. 

As you can guess, she had found our three pear trees and had begun picking them clean every year before we got there to pick our share!  She was so embarrassed when I told her that my father owned that land and we too had enjoyed the pears.  

For many years my husband and I lived far away from the farm and were never back at the right time to pick the pears.  By the time we rescued the old farm house and I went across the section to find the old pear trees, they were dead.  Perhaps I should plant some pear trees this spring.  I believe that dear neighbor lady is still living in a nursing home, so until my own trees produce fruit, I really ought to go in search of a market that sells pear butter.  I'll bet she would enjoy it!

Next week's blog will share the story of Isaac's fruit trees. You might enjoy revisiting the following blogs from the archives:  "Isaac's Giant Melon," 9-20-2012; "Plum Harvest," 6-14-2012; and "Sand Hill Plums," 3-1-2012.