Ark of Taste
Duchesse d'Angouleme Pear
The original tree was a wilding (a tree that grows by seed from a discarded core) grown in a garden near Angers, Maine-et-Loire, France. About 1808, M. Audusson, a nurseryman at Angers, got permission to propagate the pear, then calling it the Poire des Eparonnais. In 1820, he sent a basket of the fruit to the Duchesse d’Angouleme asking permission to name the pear in her honor. Permission was granted.
Between 1880 and 1907 this tree was imported in America by Felix Gillet, a young Frenchman who realized that miners arriving in California in the wake of the Gold Rush would need fruit and nut trees to feed themselves. Gillet opened his nursery in 1871, in Nevada City, California, the epicenter of the Gold Rush, and began selling his favorite varieties. Felix Gillet propagated in California some of the best fruit and nut trees and established the foundations for the major agricultural industries of the Pacific Western states. In his 1880 Catalogue, Felix Gillet described this pear as “Very large and very juicy; productive and regular bearer.”
Even though it is uncertain if this pear was ever in commercial production, it was certainly planted from homesteads of the Sierra during the Gold Rush era . The fruit investigators of the Felix Gillet Institute have found only one Duchesse d’Angouleme tree growing wild on an old homestead in Sierra County, CA. With many decades of non-human intervention -without irrigation, fertilization, pruning or pest control- it still yearly bears a large crop!
This abundantly productive heirloom tree produces large pears that are of very good unique flavor. Its shape varies with irregular and uneven surfaces, bumpy even. It ripens to a warm yellow, thin skin netted with russet. When mature, it has firm white flesh that turns buttery and melting, with richly sweet flavor.
As of 2014 it is found for sale on-line from a couple of heirloom nurseries. Yet, the Felix Gillet Institute researchers hold doubts on whether the Duchesse d’Angouleme has been confused with the Duchesse Bronzee, which is being sold as the Duchess d’Angouleme. So who is to say, how many are actually out there…