The most delicious apples and pears you'll ever taste will be those you eat standing in your own backyard on a fall day as crisp as the fruit. For expert advice on growing fruits and berries, turn to the Midwest Fruit Explorers (midfex.org), a group of enthusiastic backyard orchardists. Their annual Harvest Festival takes place in October at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Members' recommendations can be taken seriously:
Gene Yale grows 175 dwarf and miniature apple trees in his backyard in Skokie, Illinois. He recommends the dwarf Zestar apple, developed at the University of Minnesota. It is a "slightly tart, balanced apple, juicy and delicious off the tree," he says. It should make great pies, too.
Oriana Kruszewski favors Asian pears. "They're crisp, sweet, juicy, easy to grow, and you don't need to spray," she says. Her favorite is 'Korean Giant'. The perfectly round fruit is golden brown and covered with freckles. It ripens in October. Asian pears need a pollinator, and Oriana recommends 'Chojuro'. Its sweet, round, russet-brown fruit ripens in August. Asian pears keep for months in the refrigerator. It's easy to tell when your pears and apples are ripe: "Pick one and bite into it," Oriana says.