Ark of taste
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Finding their origin in Styria, autumn pears (Pyrus nivalis) are mostly grown in Eastern Styria and in the neighbouring region called Bucklige Welt (Lower Austria). Some can be found in the Mostviertel region and in Upper Austria.  Whilst most of the farmers grow five or fewer trees, the highest cultivation rate can be found in Pöllau Valley where some farmers are collecting fruits from 60-80 trees. In Pöllau Valley the number of autumn pear trees was halved by 1960. In spite of the effort of reforestation we still find this variety over-aged and endangered.This autumn pear grows on high-stemmed trees and is traditionally used for cider and cooking. The name “hirschbirne” is derived from the German word for autumn (herbst), thus pointing out its late ripening time. Unlike most of the cider and desert pears, autumn pears do not derive from wild pears (Pyrus pyraster), but from the rare snow pear (Pyrus nivalis). Their hairy leaves, crimson anthers and numerous stamen (compared to other cultivated pear varieties) prove that origin. Between 1960 and 1990 high-stemmed fruit trees including autumn pears were cleared in all of Austria for commercial reasons. Farmers received 1-2 cents per kg, which was not enough to cover the cost of the harvest. Obsthof Retter started to select trees in the 1990’s sorting out individual trees carrying the best quality fruits for the purpose of further processing. In 1991 special attention was given to this regional old pear variety and noble single variety brandies made from this unique fruit were offered on the market. In the meantime, autumn pears have become the leading product for the entire region of the Pöllau Valley Nature Park. Many farmers and manufacturers alike started to offer products deriving from autumn pears. This fact resulted in a tremendous value increase of the autumn pear as a raw product. Cultivation of the autumn pear became a true alternative to the conventional fruit growing. The sale prices have risen tenfold within the past 15 years. Although farmers plant more autumn pear trees than they cut, the total tree population is highly endangered due to the high average age of the existing trees. Autumn pears enjoy a real renaissance in Nature Park Pöllau Valley. The range of products is increasing, and some of them have already found their way into regional gourmet shops and restaurants. The task of the Genussregion Pöllauer Hirschbire association is to preserve the existing autumn pear trees in the Nature Park. Traditionally, the pears are being distilled, dried or fermented to become cider. From the commercial point of view the authentic autumn pear brandy is the most important product. In the meantime, autumn pear juice is becoming popular too. Containing a considerable amount of tannic agents, fresh pears are edible only after ageing.The fruit is small with an average weight of 80g, it is shaped like a bergamot and it is wider than it is long (with an average of 50,4 x 53,9 mm and with a stem length of around 28,9 mm). The basic colour of its skin is yellowish-green with some red spots fading away with age. Its main characteristic is the open calyx with hairy leaves, big brownish-black seeds and stone cells that surround its core. Depending on the altitude, the fruit ripens between September 20th and October 20th. The fresh fruit itself has a tangy-sweet taste and when it reaches its full ripeness it acquires a characteristic aroma of dried pears.

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