Ark of Taste in the USA
The Ark of Taste is a living catalog of delicious and distinctive foods facing extinction. By identifying and championing these foods we keep them in production and on our plates. Since 1996, more than 3,500 products from over 150 countries have been added to the International Ark of Taste. Over 200 of these foods are from the USA, and we are always seeking more edible treasures to include. The Ark of Taste is a tool for farmers, ranchers, fishers, chefs, grocers, educators and consumers to seek out and celebrate our country's diverse biological, cultural and culinary heritage.
Below, you'll find information about a particular fruit, the Jesuit Pear, that we recently nominated to the Ark of Taste in the USA with the help of several others in Michigan and Ontario.
The Jesuit Pear tree is taller than most fruit trees, resembling an oak or elm in stature. Some have been known to grow 40 feet high, with circumference of 18 ft. Historical accounts claim they grew up to 80 ft. tall and produced 40-60 bushels of pears per year. The pears are not ideal for commercial production, and have thus fallen out of general use. The tree has not been successfully started from seed, only grafting. It is a slow growing tree and may take 10-20 years for a grafting to bear a sufficient market crop, depending on the conditions. This variety of pear tree is an early bloomer and thus can be helpful in attracting bees to a farm to pollinate crops. Due to the height of the trees, however, they are difficult to harvest. Yet they produce large numbers of tiny, sweet, slightly spicy pears, which are good for eating fresh, or for canning and preserving. The fruits are more round than pear-shaped, and ripen in mid-August-September. The trees useful characteristics include a natural resistance to insects and fire blight, its robustness and it's extreme longevity. There are some specimens alive today that are 200 years old.
The Jesuit Pear was brought from France to Historical New France in the 1600-1700's by either Jesuit missionaries or French settlers. They have come to be recognized as the living symbol of the Detroit/Windsor region's French Canadian community, particularly the French-speaking community. Many of the descendants of these early settlers still live in these communities today. There is much lore surrounding the trees. Some say they were planted in groups of 12 to represent the 12 apostles, with one standing apart, representing Judas. A few descendants of the original trees still stand today, some as old as 200 years. The nominator's own 4x great grandfather, François Navarre, is said to have brought the small pear trees to the settlement that he founded in what is now Monroe, Michigan in 1787. There is a plaque in Detroit marking the site of the "Old French Pear Trees," where at one point, hundreds of them lined the shores of the Detroit River. Preservation efforts have been carried out more in Canada than the US: Agriculture Canada gene bank, Harrow Research Center, and the Horticultural Program at St. Clair College in Windsor. Robert Holland of Toronto has been a driving force in helping to re-establish the trees.
Slow Food Huron Valley and partners are endeavoring to map the locations of existing (and previous/historical) Jesuit Pear trees that are unique to our Great Lakes region. At this time, we are interested in the Paw Paw and the Jesuit Pear (also known as the Mission Pear or French Pear). Everyone can help us map the location of these trees! To place a point on the map: zoom in to your area of interest; click on the "Edit Pencil" icon; choose the type of tree point you'll be adding (be sure to scroll if you are looking for an existing Jesuit Pear (green color) or Paw Paw (yellow color); click on the map where the tree point should go; and add a few details about the tree point (you can even upload a photo - please do!). If you would like to look at this map on a full screen go to this link https://arcg.is/X9q9b.