In Danvers, MA there lives a scraggly old pear tree that's estimated to be over 380 years old. It's known as the Endicott Pear
, named after John Endicott, the first governor of Massachusetts ( See http://www.ars-grin.gov/cor/pyrus/endicott.pear.html
). And it still produces fruit. As I begin the process of creating my own heirloom orchard from the ground up, the idea often crosses my mind of who eventually will be eating the fruit from my trees long after I've become wormfood myself. I'd initially thought in terms of decades; now centuries
seem quite plausible, at least regarding pears. "Plant a pear for an heir," as someone recently advised me. It's heartwarming to think that 100 or 200 years from now a pear cobbler could be made using pears from a tree I grafted in my kitchen on a blustery Winter day in 2005.
There are a lot of varieties of heirloom fruit I'm excited to be putting into an orchard. By volume, most of what will be grown are apples--we're attempting 120 varieties--but there will be quite a variety of pears and plums, a handful of peaches and an assortment of uncommon apricots and cherries. There will even be three delightful Welsh perry pears, if I can get them through USDA Quarantine this January without a hitch. We'll see what grows out here on the Maine coast. The pears are of particular fascination though. I think part of it is because one rarely encounters a pear selection beyond the standard Bartlett, Anjou, Bosc
and occasional Seckel
. How can the romanticist in each of us not be seduced by pears with exotic names like Fondante de Moulins-Lille, Bergamotte dâ€™Ã‰tÃ©, Louise Bonne d'Avranches
or Duchesse d'AngoulÃªme
, especially when a variety is described as having a "melting, extremely juicy, very sweet, slightly acidulous, rich aromatic flavor"? My dear Aunt Angela, a devout Catholic and apotheosis of self-restraint, receives a box of DoyennÃ© du Comice
pears from me each Christmas. In her words, one of these ripe fruit dribbling down her chin is "about as close as Iâ€™ve come to God." Who knew Divine Intervention was to be found in a Harry & David catalog?
I recently discovered that there are only seven acres of pears currently being grown in Maine. Just SEVEN. Connecticut devotes nearly 250 acres annually; Oregon, over 19,400. I was curious if the lack of pears up here was because they simply don't adapt well to our Zone 5 coastal Maine weather and growing conditions. So I made a call up the coast to fruit aficionado Mark Fulford (he's trialed as many as 40 varieties on his farm) to get his opinion. His thoughts? Most heirloom pears do quite well up here, but many of the very best are too tender to ship and people in general simply aren't educated enough about the more exotic varieties to have much interest in them. And, as is often the refrain in these parts, if it ain't broke . . .
In 2004, not long after I decided to close my eyes and jump into the orchard project, I walked into the island grocery to discover a cache of Seckel pears that had just been added to the otherwise meagre and predictable produce section. I grabbed a dozen of them, having read the Seckel is the definitive sugar pear. On my counter these beautiful, hard little gems sat, day after day, until they finally had the slightest give to them. Flavor? Like old snow. It was such a disappointment. They were clearly picked way too young, probably in anticipation of being shipped across the country or beating another grower to market.
Maybe it's time someone local makes a few of the great old pears available to the foodies of Maine.
John A Gasbarre
Lamb Abbey Orchards
Union, Maine 04862
44Â° 15' 47" N / 69Â° 18' 42" W