Take A Road Trip Through The North Hill Country

The New York Times recently named the Texas Hill Country as the number-one place to visit.

"Traveling this summer may sound like a cruel joke: airlines are getting worse, gas prices are creeping toward $5 a gallon and the euro continues to go up, up, up. It's almost enough to make you stay home." The northern rim of the Hill County is even closer to home. Food writer Claudia Alarcon described her North Hill Country Road trip in the summer issue of Edible Austin as being "full of undiscovered food and adventure treasures."

We would like to invite you, dear readers, to explore Coleman, Santa Anna, Brownwood, Rising Star, Comanche, Dublin this summer. There is something for everyone from Lake Brownwood to a wine tasting tour of the wineries in the region. Instead of going to Italy this summer, go to Brownwood, home of the Turtle Gelateria maker of superb artisan gelato (Italian ice cream) and sorbettos. Everyone knows about Dr. Pepper Dublin but they also need to discover some of the world's best hard cheeses, hand made by the Veldhuizen family. Stay in a Tipi at Star of Texas Bed and Breakfast or cuddle in one of their darling cottages.

You don't have to go to Hollywood to visit the site of a movie. The independent flick, World Without Waves, was shot on the Colorado River half way between Brownwood and San Saba at the Regency Suspension Bridge, also the inspiration for a new CD titled "The Gospel According to Regency" by Joel Melton. Not sure of an exact release date yet, but be sure to sign up for the newsletter and you'll be one of the first to know. The original song "Leroy in Valle Hermoso", written by Joel, is being made into a movie short film. The Producer, Troy Campbell of Collection Agency Films, has enlisted the help of many of Austin's finest in film to accomplish a fleshed out and exciting version of the song that will be worthy of entering film festivals. The lead will be played by longtime Austin singer/songwriter extrodonare, Beaver Nelson. A small but pivitol roll of 'The Priest' will be played by Austin's own songwriter/singer/composer/performer/Italian cooking instructor...Michael Fracasso. You won't go hungry or become bored when you travel a little bit closer to home this summer

The Keifer Pear

As you walk around your neighborhood in October you may have noticed fence line or alley trees loaded with large heavy hard pears. You reach up and pick one as the tree limbs are breaking under their load. You take a bite. It’s gritty, sweet but not too. The texture resembles a potato more than a pear. It is a Keiffer Pear though some think it is far from pearish. “... I doubt the Keiffer is nearer being a pear than a mule is being a horse. I think the quince is the father of one and the jackass the other.” (from the Annual Report of the Ohio State Board of Agriculture 1895) Actually the parents were not mules nor horses but the oriental Sand Pear and the european Bartlett with the help of accidental midwife Peter Keiffer.

Mr. Keiffer was an Alsacian who had worked for twelve years in the garden of the King of France before immigrating to the United States. In 1853 he planted a small nursery in Roxborough near Philadelphia. Keiffer imported much of his stock from the Belgian nursery Van Houten including Chinese Sand Pear seed. He sold saplings of the Sand Pear as an ornamental. Keiffer also grew Bartlett Pears. One day he noticed a seedling with unusual foliage so he saved it.

The Sand Pear has large beautiful flowers, almost inedible “sandy” fruit but is hardy and fire blight resistant. This made it a perfect mate for the weak but buttery european Bartlett. The seedling which Keiffer saved produced pear tasty enough that he gave them away to friends. Thirteen years later Peter Keiffer entered his new pear in the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876 where one of the judges, a nursery man by the name of William Parry, paid Keiffer for a few graftings. Mr. Parry recognized the commercial value of Keiffer’s pear. The reason the Ohioan Aggie quoted above disparaged the Keiffer was on account of how prolific it was - which he feared would lower pear prices, and the fact that it was fire blight resistant so it grew in Gulf states which might take away market share from northern growers of fancy older european pears like the Bartlett. He was more interested in protecting his market than introducing new fruits to the world.

Peter Keiffer died in 1890 but his pear lived on, though in this modern age the Keiffer is rarely seen in the grocery store. Many productive 90 year old pears stand next to farm house ruins.
American Heirloom Pears are extremely rare 19th and 20th century pears of American origin including the Keiffer. The Keiffer pear we found in our alley is on the Southwest Regis-Tree of endangered or rare fruits and nuts, and listed on Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste as one of 28 rare varieties of pears. “The Ark of Taste seeks, first and foremost, to save an economic, social and cultural heritage - a universe of animal breeds, fruit and vegetables, cured meats, cheese, cereals, pastas, cakes and confectionery.” As Michael Pollan, author of Botany of Desire says, “Slow Food recognizes that the best place to preserve biological and cultural diversity is not in museums, or zoos but, as it were, on our plates: by finding new markets for precious-but-obscure foodstuffs.” This attention to food is not the gourmet-driven pursuit of a culinary elite, but a grass-roots movement to save that which is most precious to us all—the unassailable pleasure of food grown with respect for the earth, and for the people who grow and eat it.

Last fall, our egg and honey supplier, Nouvella Newman, brought me two bushels full of Keiffer Pears which grew on her ranch. The tree was planted when the ranch was first homesteaded - right after Parry's nursery went into the Keifer Pear mail order business. Nouvella had so many pears she didn’t know what to do with them and was feeding them to her livestock. She wondered what I could make with them suggesting that we could make jam. I could feel the sandy texture in my mouth and while the fruit was sweet it was bland. I kept thinking potato or jicama, then I recalled a recipe from Bernard Clayton’s 1978 classic cookbook, Bread’s Of France, which used pears. The recipe produces a marvelous slightly sweet bread that goes especially well with cheeses, or toasted and buttered with jam. The freshly ground black pepper adds just the right amount of zip, hardly noticeable but important.

Because fruit flys had started to attack the pears we turned them into puree, froze the puree in bread batch portions and put Pepper Pear French Toast on our brunch menu. I form the bread into two pound coronas so our french toast is presented in two beautiful wedges. It will be several more months before we run out of Keiffer Pear Puree and then we will anticipate fall.