Ark of Taste
Slightly more round than the traditional pyriform “pear-shape”, the Burford pear has greenish yellow skin that blushes pink as it ripens. The yellowish, crisp interior flesh has a wonderfully refreshing flavor with a nice acidity. It’s flavor and texture is similar to an Asian pear but without any grittiness. The Burford pear makes it a great all-purpose pear suitable for eating fresh, canning and preserving, or making perry and pear vinegar.
The first Burford pear tree likely originated in Amherst County, VA in the late 1800s. The tree was grown in the orchard of the great-grandfather of the American fruit historian, Tom Burford, who writes nostalgically about enjoying the pear throughout his childhood in Pomona, the quarterly journal of the North American Fruit Explorers (NAFEX). He recalls enjoying the pears for dessert, canning, and pickling. Most fondly, he remembers using them as part of a family recipe for pear-pineapple jam.
“Burford Pear was a selection from my great-grandfather’s orchard that undoubtedly, he found outstanding because of its flavor, ripening quality, tree stamina and above all resistance to fireblight and pear psylla A 75 to 100-year-old tree was my childhood backyard favorite tree, growing between the row of outhouses and the gas generator house that piped light’ to the main house This about 17-foot tree has extraordinarily limber branches. With a full load of from 17 to 20 bushels the unfruited limbs nearly head-high would bend to the ground with mature fruit without breakage. In 1954 Hurricane Hazel blew the tree to a 45-degree angle, but it was righted by a sling around its trunk with the aid of our faithful Ford 8N tractor and produced its usual full crop of pears. For nearly 60 years I enjoyed the pears canned from this tree. The ripening time for harvest is forgiving and even when fully ripe on the tree or gathered from windfalls the pears are usable for dessert, canning and pickling The most significant use of the Burford pear is fresh canned. They are pealed, cored and packed in quart jars with a light syrup poured over; then processed. The color remains white. In the winter they become a favorite dessert, plain or stuffed with Arborio rice and fruits like canned figs or berries or just cheese with a few dashes of port wine. Hickory or walnuts are also good stuffing.”
Having a high resistance to fireblight (a bacterial disease) and bearing consistently large quantities of fruit makes this pear variety ideal for propagation. A recently planted group of 100 Burford pear trees designated for pear brandy will begin to bear fruit in 2009 and other smaller plantings for fresh fruit marketing will begin to bear fruit in the near-term. This pear is regionally place-based, but is potentially well adapted to different growing areas. Nationally, dozens of backyard plantings have been made from the nursery stock sourced from Virginia. Small orchardists in southwest New Hampshire have even begun growing the variety with excellent results.
Harvested in September in central Virginia, the Burford pear ripens over a long period on the tree without rotting, making it particularly forgiving. Although interest is growing, at present, the pear’s availability is extremely limited.
First image courtesy of Ben Watson.
Second and third images courtesy of Kraig Kraft.