By Jules Janick
Proceedings of the 8th International Symposium on Pear (2002)
Abstract: The history of the pear is traced from antiquity to the present emphasizing its role in popular culture and art. The pear has long been admired in many cultures and, although never as popular as apple, remains one of the world’s most admired temperate fruits.
Introduction: The pear is a truly wondrous hardy fruit, widely grown in the temperate regions of the world, with varied size, shape, texture, and flavors. The long-lived trees attain great size and are relatively easy-to-grow. Yet, we cannot ignore the fact that world production of pear is only about one-quarter that of apple, indicating that the appreciation of pear has not attained the universality or the depth of appeal of its better known relative. In many ways, the pear remains a problem fruit to growers and consumers. Producers have to contend with reduced hardiness; early flowering; fire blight, codling moth, and psylla susceptibility; and the inherent difficulty of handling a crop that must be carefully picked and then ripened to achieve maximum quality. To the consumer, tasting a pear is an adventure fraught with anxiety. As the opera lover yearns to witness, but seldom, if ever, experiences the ultimate synthesis of music and drama, so the pear connoisseur strives to obtain, but seldom gets to consume, the perfect fruit at its optimum state of maturity and stage of ripeness, to produce the perfect proportion of texture, flavor, acidity, and sweetness. The pear can be a stately ornamental and the ‘Bradford’ pear and other selections of Pyrus calleryana, are admired as a street tree for its elegant, pyramidal form, red fall color, and white flowers. But, alas, the foul scented flowers, a distinguishing characteristic of Pyrus, may be objectionable in mass plantings. We, who love this fruit—fresh, cooked, spiced, fermented, dried, liquid, or even grown in a bottle and smothered by brandy—are convinced that all attempts to overcome any defects, natural or imposed, are worthy of the struggle and we are proud to be a part of this sublime activity.
While the present symposium attempts to present the latest horticultural progress in the world of the pear, the purpose of this article is to review the contribution of the pear to literature, popular culture, and art. For, as horticulture truly provides food for body and soul, so the discussion of each of the gifts of Pomona must be considered not only from the mundane point of view of our palette, our stomach, and our livelihood, but we must also pay homage to our fruits from the broader perspective of our humanity.