Your Guide to Easy Fruit Tree Care

Episode 51: Back from the Brink: Growing Jesuit Pear Trees (Also Known as Mission Pears)

An old Jesuit pear tree in an open field. These trees are also known as Mission pear trees.
Jesuit pear trees also known as Mission pears. French Jesuit missionaries brought these productive trees to North America in the 1700s. (photo credit: Paul Spence)

In the 1700s, French Jesuit missionaries brought Jesuit Pear Trees to North America and they were said to have planted the trees in groups of 12 to represent the apostles of Christ. The community enjoyed the fruit which they would eat fresh or preserve.

But over time Jesuit Pear Trees - which are also known as Mission Pears - were forgotten. These trees are huge and the fruit is small so growers became more interested in smaller and newer pear varieties. Today, enthusiasts in Canada and the United States are grafting and growing Jesuit Pear Trees in an effort to bring this variety back from the brink of extinction.

Portrait of Paul Spence, who is passionate about saving Jesuit or Mission Pear trees from extinction.
Paul Spence is a Jesuit pear enthusiast who is grafting and growing Jesuit pear trees in an attempt to prevent the extinction of this highly productive fruit tree.

​So, in this episode of The Urban Forestry Radio Show and Podcast, we talk with Jesuit pear enthusiast Paul Spence about these historic trees. We'll find out why this fruit is different from other European pears and we talk about growing Jesuit or Mission pear trees in your own community.

What You Will Learn About Growing Jesuit Pear Trees in this Podcast:

  • 05.47: How Paul Spence learned about Jesuit Pear Trees
  • 06.28 What is the history of the Jesuit pear trees and how they are different from other pear trees.
  • 7.27 Why the stories around fruit tree varieties is important
  • 8.11 What are the myths and stories around the Jesuit pear trees
  • 8.56 This history of Jesuit pears amongst the French community in the Detroit region. In the US these trees are known as Mission pear trees.
  • 10.04 Where were these Jesuit pear trees planted in North America?
  • 11.22 How do Jesuit pear trees look different than modern pear trees? How is the fruit different?
  • 12.21 How do you eat or preserve Jesuit pears?
  • 13.14 How did Jesuit or Mission pear trees help French settlers survive through the long cold winters?
  • 13.45 How old is the oldest surviving Jesuit pear tree?
  • 14.09 Where the old trees planted from seed? Or were they planted as seedlings?
  • 15.18 When has Paul tasted Jesuit pears and did he enjoy the flavour?
  • 16.30 How would these pears compare with Bosc or other pears if you tasted them side by side?
  • 17.46 What was Paul's plan when he realized he wanted to help promote the survival of Jesuit pear trees?
  • 18.51 How Paul got involved with others from the across the border who also wanted to save the tree
  • 20.02 What are the Jesuit pear "Pickling Parties" and "Grafting Parties" like?
  • 20.48 How many Jesuit pear trees were left in North America when they started this initiative?
  • 21.31 How many Jesuit pear trees are there in the region today?
  • 23.32 How did the pears actually get their name? Do they have more than one name? Are the trees associated still with a religion?
  • 25.52 What is the ideal root stock to use when you are trying to graft Jesuit pear trees? How long do the young trees take to fruit?
  • 27.32 If you have an older, more conventional pear tree, can you graft a Jesuit pear tree branch onto it?
  • 34.39 Paul tells the stories of some of the local Jesuit pear trees near him
  • 37.56 If you only have one tree, will you still get a crop of Jesuit pears? Or does this tree need a compatible pollination partner?
  • 41.34 What do you serve pickled Jesuit pears with? What do Slow Food chefs recommend?
  • 43.46 Why Paul is starting a farm that will be a living museum where they grow and promote less common crops like Jesuit pears.
  • 49.12 Paul talks about his farm and living museum. What types of rare vegetables, fruits, nuts and grains will he grow?
  • 51.07 Can Jesuit pears be turned into  a drinkable juice?
  • 51.37 Will Paul only grow rare grains and vegetables and fruits that have traditional been grown in his region?
  • 54.44 Why is saving old fruit tree and vegetable varieties so important to Paul?

For more detail about growing Jesuit or Mission pear trees, check out this blog post or download this Slow Food USA pamphlet about growing Jesuit Pears. The pamphlet was developed by Darlene Navarre Darley.

Image of Mission pears on table in a Slow Food Huron Valley post
Jesuit Pears, also known as Mission Pears, are traditionally preserved as a winter food and helped early European settlers survive the long, cold winters.
Volunteers graft Mission pear trees.
Hobbyists learn how to graft and propagate Mission pear trees as part of a Slow Food gathering. Their goal is to increase Mission pear tree plantings across North America.

The host of the Urban Forestry Radio Show and Podcast is Susan Poizner of the fruit tree care education website www.orchardpeople.com and the author of the award-winning fruit tree care book Growing Urban Orchards. You can listen to previous episodes of The Urban Forestry Radio Show and Podcast at www.orchardpeople.com/podcast and you can subscribe to the iTunes podcast.

Tune into The Urban Forestry Radio Show LIVE by going to RealityRadio101.com on the last Tuesday of every month at 1.00 pm Eastern Time and email your questions in during the show to [email protected] This show covers fruit trees, food forests, permaculture and arboriculture. After the live broadcast, archived podcasts are available at www.orchardpeople.com/podcast.

The Urban Forestry Radio Show and Podcast is brought to you by our Gold Sponsor, Stark Bro's Nurseries and Orchards . Our bronze sponsors include Whiffletree Nursery, Earth Alive, Acti-Sol and Mark's Choice.

Learn more about Jesuit or Mission Pear Trees! Click below to listen to the podcast! 

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Susan Poizner of Orchard People

Speaks at conferences and symposiums across North America about fruit tree care, urban orchard design, fruit tree cultivars and more.
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