Jesuit pear tree put on endangered food list
The Jesuit pear tree has been put on the Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste, an international list of disappearing foods worth saving.
“It’s wonderful,” Robert Holland, a former Windsor man who has encouraged people to plant Jesuit pear trees for years to save the historic variety, said Monday.
Jesuit pear trees are believed to have been planted by French Jesuit missionaries, thus the name, or French settlers in the Windsor and Detroit area in the 1700s. The pear trees grow tall, 12 to 24 metres according to some historic accounts, and produce in mid-August and September small pears that are sweet and juicy.
The list is like a Noah’s Ark catalogue of about 200 plants, animals and products in danger of disappearing in the United States. The international Ark of Taste has 3,500 products. The Jesuit pear joins other endangered foods such as the Belle of Georgia heirloom peach, Creole cream cheese that dates back to French settlers in New Orleans, and the American chestnut.
Holland has been promoting the planting of Jesuit pear trees for years and posts news about the historic trees on jesuitpear.com. He hopes the publicity of being included in the Ark of Taste can bring the tree back in Michigan and maybe even attract interest from commercial fruit growers on both sides of the border.
Slow Food USA executive director Richard McCarthy said being on this Noah’s Ark list of endangered foods will raise the pear’s profile with Slow Food members, farmers and chefs, and increase plantings.
“Food should be much more broad and diverse than one industrial agriculture presents us with. We’ve lost in North America about 90 per cent of our biodiversity in the last 100 years. This is a travesty.”
The ark is not just about preserving biodiversity, but keeping an important link to people, places and taste, McCarthy said.
In 2004, the former curator of the Canadian Clonal Gene Bank in Harrow collected fruit for the seeds from a Jesuit pear tree by Iler Road near Harrow that’s 200 to 300 years old. That tree is still standing.
Holland, who had been a cofounder of the Ash Rescue Coalition when the emerald ash borer was killing ash trees across Essex County, turned his attention to Jesuit pears and helped to get more pear trees planted, including some from that Iler Road tree. Holland said there are hundreds of Jesuit pear clones that are now at least 10 years old and some are 12 metres tall in Essex County. He gave a seedling in June 2015 to the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington.
He credited Jean Tremblay of Pointe-aux-Roches with providing Jesuit pears for a tasting in Monroe, Mich., that included Slow Food USA members.
“I called it pearismatic,” he said of the intense interest that the Jesuit pear trees continue to generate.
Jesuit pears — the fruit of pear trees first planted by French missionaries in the Windsor-Detroit area in the 1700s — are making a slow comeback, thanks in part to the efforts of Robert Holland.