Pears were used as food long before agriculture was developed as an industry. They are native to the region from the Caspian Sea westward into Europe. Nearly 1000 Years before the Christian Era, Homer referred to pears as growing in the garden of Alcinous. A number of varieties were known prior to the Christian Era. Pliny listed more than forty varieties of pears. Many varieties were known in Italy, France, Germany, and England by the time America was discovered.
Both pear seeds and trees were brought to the United States by the early settlers. Like the apple, pear trees thrived and produced well from the very start. As early as 1771 the Prince Nursery on Long Island, New York, greatest of the colonial fruit nurseries, listed forty-two varieties. The introduction of pears to California is attributed to the Franciscan Fathers. Led by Father Junipera Serra, in 1776, they planted seeds carried from the Old World.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries greatly improved pears were developed, particularly in Belgium and France. In 1850, pears were so popular in France that the fruit was celebrated in song and verse, and it was the fashion among the elite to see who could raise the best specimen. When the better varieties were brought into the United States a disease attacked the bark, roots, and other soft tissues of the trees, and practically destroyed the industry in the East. The European pear thrives primarily in California, Oregon, and Washington and in a few narrow strips on the south and east sides of Lake Michigan, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario, where there are relatively cool summers and mild winters. Under these conditions, the trees are not as susceptible to pear blight, or “fire blight.”
Another kind of pear, distinguished from the European “butter fruit” with its soft, melting flesh, had developed in Asia, and is known as the sand pear. These have hard flesh with numerous “sand” or grit cells. Sand pears reached the United States before 1840, by way of Europe, and proved resistant to fire blight. Hybrids of sand pears and European varieties are now grown extensively in the eastern and southern parts of the United States. They are inferior to the European pear, but still better to eat than the original sand pear. The best European varieties grow in the Pacific States, and from these states come most of the pears used for sale as fresh fruit for processing.
Pears are grown in all sections of the country, but the Western states (California, Oregon, and Washington), produce approximately 87 to 90 percent of all pears sold commercially. Practically all pears that are processed come from the Western states.
More than 3000 varieties are known in the United States, but less than a dozen are commercially important today. The Bartlett outranks all other varieties in quantity of production and in value. It is the principal variety grown in California and Washington and is also the important commercial pear in New York and Michigan. It originated in England and was first distributed by a Mr. Williams, a nurseryman in Middlesex. In all other parts of the world it is known as Williams or Williams’ Bon-Chretien. It was brought to the United States in 1798 or 1799 and planted at Roxbury, Massachusetts under the name of Williams’ Bon Chretien. In 1817 Enoch Bartlett acquired the estate, and not knowing the true name of the pear, distributed it under his own name. The variety is large, and bell-shaped, and has smooth clear yellow skin that is often blushed with red. It has white, finely grained flesh, and is juicy and delicious.
Pears have a fairly high content of vitamin C and iron. They are good in all elimination diets and are a wonderful digestive aid. They help normalize bowel activity.
Pears have an alkaline excess. They are a good energy producer in the winter, when used as a dried fruit, and are a delicious summer food when fresh.
NUTRIENTS IN ONE POUND
Protein: 2.6 g
Fat: 1.5 g
Carbohydrates: 59.6 g
Calcium: 49 mg
Phosphorus: 60 mg
Iron: 1.1 mg
Vitamin A: 90 I.U.
Thiamine: 0.8 mg
Riboflavin: 0.16 mg
Niacin: 0.5 mg
Ascorbic acid: 15 mg