There are some delightful heirloom pears available. These are suitable for home orchards and the edible landscape. Here are profiles of some wonderful varieties.
Rousselet de Rheims Pear
This goes by several other names. These include petit Rousselet and Rousselet. In Colonial times it was often called musk or spice pear due to the taste. It was also called Late Catherine as well.
Very highly regarded, this variety is quite old, and dates to the 1600’s. It was a favorite of Louis XIV and was highly recommended by Jean de la Quintinye, the king’s gardener at Versailles. In 1688 La Quintinye is quoted as saying “no garden should be without it.” This was also recommended by A.J. Downing, author of Downing’s Fruits and Fruit Trees of America, published in 1849. It was reportedly a parent of the Seckel.
This has long deep brown shoots. The stalks are an inch long. The fruit is medium to small and ranges from oval and pear-shaped to cone-like. The skin is greenish-yellow except on the sunny side where it has a reddish-brown blush and russeting. This ripens in early September. William Prince of Prince Nurseries described the flavor as follows, “enriched by a peculiar perfume which imparts an excellent flavor.”
The flesh is white and fairly fine grained. Not terribly juicy, the breaking flesh is almost buttery. It has a spicy sweet musky rich flavor. It compares to Seckel in terms of flavor, shape, and color.
Santa Claus Pear
This was originally a French variety though little seems to be known about its origins and history. This strong growing tree is upright. It bears fairly large crops. The leaves turn a beautiful red in the fall. It is named for the fact that the fruits ripen around Christmas or New Year’s.
The very large fruits are conical to round. A winter pear, these have a reddish-brown skin with heavy russeting. The creamy white flesh has a wonderful flavor. It is yellow and melting. Santa Claus is a dessert quality fruit. One expert on fruit, Colonel Brymer of Dorchester, England, is quoted as saying around 1905 that it “deserves the attention of all pear lovers.”