Je­suit pear tree put on en­dan­gered food list

Windsor Star - - CITY + REGION - SHARON HILL [email protected] Twit­ter.com/win­starhill

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.

ROBERT HOL­LAND

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.

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