Food & Drink

Pears go from orchard to glass

Starkrimson pears are shown in a packing bin earlier this month at Greene and Hemly Inc. of Courtland.
Starkrimson pears are shown in a packing bin earlier this month at Greene and Hemly Inc. of Courtland.

Pears stand tall in the Hemly family tree.

For six generations, the Hemly family has grown flavorful fruit on the banks of the Sacramento River. Over hundreds of acres, their pear, apple and cherry trees speckle the Delta farmland in a living patchwork of orchards.

Sarah Hemly recites the family’s oft-repeated story of how it all began: “The family farm dates back to 1850 when Great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Josiah Greene bought some Clarksburg land sight unseen in San Francisco. He soon discovered it to be underwater and had to build a boat in Sacramento to take downriver and find it. He was the first to build a levee on the Sacramento River and started growing pears and other food to send to the mining camps and San Francisco.”

A would-be prospector, Greene found his gold in Bartletts. He turned the wetlands into orchards and put down roots for good. By the 1870s, his farm became a Delta mainstay and the forerunner of today’s Greene & Hemly Inc., a major fruit grower and packer.

“We’ve grown Bartletts from the beginning,” said Virginia Hemly Chhabra, who is in charge of packaging. “It’s a great eating pear.”

Bartletts also were perfect for their pioneer ancestors, Sarah Hemly said. “Pears can travel. They’re picked when not ripe. Before refrigeration, they could provide the miners with fresh fruit. By the time the pears got to the camps, they were ready to eat.”

“We now grow five kinds of pears: Bartlett, Bosc, Starkrimson, Forelle and Seckel,” Chhabra added. “We also grow a lot of apples: Gala, Granny Smith, Braeburn, Fuji, Pink Lady and Golden Delicious.”

Members of the current generation of Hemly farmers are adding a new chapter to their family tale: They’re making pear cider.

“We’ve always gone farm to table,” said Sarah Hemly, who is president of the family’s newly formed cider company. “Now, we’re going orchard to glass.”

Hemly Cider will make its debut in late November at Tuscan Wine Village, formerly Vino Piazza, in Lockeford, she said. That’s where the cider is made and bottled. Several Sacramento area restaurants and stores also have expressed interest in this new locally grown hard cider. Availability will be updated on the company’s website (

Bartlett pears and Gala apples make up the primary ingredients in the cider, Sarah Hemly said. Before launching, the Hemlys found a pear cider mentor half a world away – in Tasmania, Australia. Chris Thomson, a longtime distiller and cider maker, became their principle adviser, helping them develop a recipe to showcase their fruit.

This hard cider harkens back to those Greene and Hemly roots. It’s made exclusively with their own fruit from trees that date back decades.

“These trees were planted by my grandfather, 50 to 60 years ago,” said Matt Hemly, Sarah’s husband, as he guided visitors through a pear orchard near his parents’ Victorian home built in 1875. “We have some trees that are well over 100 years old. Pears can keep bearing a really long time.”

These oldies are still goodies, he noted. “Honeycrisp and Sweetango apples may be the brightest new stars on the produce aisle, but a perfectly ripened Bartlett pear tastes so much better.”

Ripeness is key to pear enjoyment, Sarah Hemly added. “You don’t get to pick the day when a pear reaches its peak. When you have a perfect pear, it’s perfect because it’s on pear time, not your time. They make you wait a little.”

That perfect pear flavor is what she hopes to capture in a bottle. Sarah and Matt Hemly researched cider making for several years before launching their own brand.

Most pear ciders on the market are actually 95 percent (or more) apple juice, she explained. “Ours is 60 percent pear and 40 percent apple. After fermentation, we add a little fresh pear juice at the end to give it an extra punch of pear. We grow all the fruit we use. We handle it from tree to bottle.”

Pear cider dates back centuries before the Gold Rush, but like its apple counterpart, it almost completely disappeared during Prohibition, she noted.

“In the U.S., cider is so old and yet so new,” Sarah Hemly said. “Apple cider really is enjoying a comeback. It’s been rediscovered by millennials. But most people don’t make pear cider, especially not like we do. We grow it, pick it and press it.”

Pears, of course, are great for eating, too. Sarah Hemly loves savory pear dishes while Chhabra can’t resist pear pie.

“I love our Bartletts in heavy syrup, right out of a can that’s been sitting in the sun,” Matt Hemly said. “It’s not health food, but my idea of the perfect comfort food.”

Debbie Arrington: 916-321-1075, @debarrington

Wild rice, pear and roasted sweet potato salad with walnuts

Truly wild rice and cultivated wild rice have different cooking times; the following directions give times for both.

Make ahead: The finished salad can be refrigerated in an airtight container for a day or two. If you want to store it for another day or so, leave out the pears; chop and add them just before serving.

Adapted from “The Whole Grain Promise: More Than 100 Delicious Recipes to Jumpstart a Healthier Diet,” by Robin Asbell (Running Press, 2015).

3 cups water

1 cup wild rice or a rice blend (see note above)

1 pound sweet potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (4 cups)

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, chopped

2 large scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced

2 medium ripe pears, cored but not peeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons maple syrup (preferably Grade B)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup walnut pieces, coarsely chopped, for garnish

First, cook the wild rice: Add the water to a 2-quart pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the rice and return to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium, cover and cook. For hand-harvested wild rice, start checking in 20 minutes. Cultivated rice may take 45 minutes to 1 hour. Once the rice is tender and just starting to split apart at the ends, drain well. Let cool.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the sweet potatoes with 1 tablespoon of the oil on a large rimmed baking sheet. Roast until fork-tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Let cool.

Combine the wild rice, sweet potatoes, parsley, scallions and pears in a large mixing bowl. (If you’re planning to refrigerate the salad for a few days, leave out the pears at this point.)

Whisk together the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil, the lemon juice, maple syrup, salt and pepper in a small bowl, until emulsified.

Pour the dressing over the wild rice mixture and toss to coat. Serve topped with walnuts.

Per serving: 370 calories; 7 g protein; 52 g carbohydrates; 16 g fat; 2 g saturated fat; 0 mg cholesterol; 250 mg sodium; 7 g dietary fiber; 15 g sugar.

Serves 6

Roasted pear crumble

Here’s an easy and healthy dessert. Note: For roasting, choose firm fruit. Bosc and Anjou pears keep their shape best when baking. To neatly remove the pear's core, use a melon baller. Recipe from the Kansas City Star.

3 ripe pears, not peeled, halved, cored

1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, divided

1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

3 tablespoons chopped walnuts

4 teaspoons honey, divided

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

One 5.3-ounce carton nonfat vanilla yogurt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray an 8-inch baking dish with nonstick spray. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with nonstick spray.

Arrange pears, cut side up in the 8-inch baking dish. Brush pears lightly with 1 tablespoon of melted butter. Place on one side of the oven. Bake, uncovered, 20 minutes, or until pears are tender when pricked with a fork.

Meanwhile, place oats in a small mixing bowl and drizzle with remaining 1/2 tablespoon melted butter. Stir to coat well. Stir in walnuts, 3 teaspoons honey and cinnamon and stir to coat evenly. Spread the oat mixture in a single layer on the baking sheet. Bake, uncovered, alongside the pears for 7 to 8 minutes or until golden brown, stirring every 3 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

Stir remaining 1 teaspoon of honey and vanilla into yogurt.

To serve, place a warm pear, cut side up, in an individual serving dish. Drizzle with about 1 tablespoon of yogurt mixture and sprinkle with about 2 tablespoons oat mixture.

Per serving: 163 calories (31 percent from fat); 6 g total fat (2 g saturated); 8 mg cholesterol; 26 g carbohydrates; 4 g protein; 18 mg sodium; 3 g dietary fiber.

Serves 6

Swedish pear pie

This easy pie (which involves a topping rather than a rolled crust) is traditionally made with apples. This pear version was adapted by The Bee’s Kathy Morrison from several sources, all of which call it “Swedish” without any indication why. But the cardamom used here instead of cinnamon is a spice that’s popular in Swedish baking. It adds a subtle flavor to the pears.

Try half pears and half apples if you can’t decide which to use. Peel, core and slice the apples.

4 or 5 Bosc or Anjou pears, ripe but still firm (peel if desired)

1/8 cup granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon cardamom or cinnamon

For topping:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup currants, raisins or chopped nuts

3/4 cup butter, softened

1 egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Core the pears and cut into 1/4-inch thick slices. Fill a 9-inch pie plate with the slices (to the rim but not mounded significantly above). Mix the 1/8 cup sugar with cardamom or cinnamon, and sprinkle over the fruit.

Combine the topping ingredients, mixing in the egg last. Spread the mixture over the fruit, raking it down into the slices but don’t stir. (Also, keep topping away from the very edges of the pie plate unless it has a wide rim or you put a piece of foil on the lower rack under the pan.)

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes until fruit is bubbly all over and topping is golden brown. The pie cuts easier when cooled to room temperature.

Serves 8

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