The Pear, also called Pyrrie, belongs to the same natural order of plants (the Rosacoe) as the Apple. It is sometimes called the Pyerie, and when wild is so hard and austere as to bear the name of Choke-pear. It grows wild in Britain, and abundantly in France and Germany. The Barland Pear, which was chiefly cultivated in the seventeenth century, still retains its health and vigor, "the identical trees in Herefordshire which then supplied excellent liquor, continuing to do so
in this, the nineteenth century."
This fruit caused the death of Drusus, a son of the Roman Emperor Claudius, who caught in his mouth a Pear thrown into the air, and by mischance attempted to swallow it, but the Pear was so extremely hard that it stuck in his throat, and choked him.
Pears gathered from gardens near old monasteries were formerly held in the
highest repute for flavor, and it was noted that the trees which bore them continued fruitful for a great number of years. The secret cause seems to have been, not the holy water with which the trees were formally christened, but the fact that the sagacious monks had planted them upon a layer of stones so as to prevent the roots from penetrating deep into the ground, and so as thus to ensure their proper drainage.
The cellular tissue of which a Pear is composed differs from that of the apple in containing minute stony concretions which make it, in many varieties of the fruit, bite short and crisp; and its specific gravity is therefore greater than that of the apple, so much so that by taking a cube of each of equal size, that of the Pear will sink when thrown into a vessel of water, while that of the apple will float. The wood of the wild Pear is strong, and readily stained black, so
as to look like ebony. It is much employed by wood-engravers. Gerard says "it serveth to be cut up into many kinds of moulds; not only such fruits as those seen in my Herbal are made of, but also many sorts of pretty toies for coifes, breast plates, and such like; used among our English gentlewomen."
The good old black Pear of Worcester is represented in the civic arms, or rather in the second of the two shields belonging to the faithful city; Argent, a fesse between three Pears, sable. The date of this shield coincides with that of the visit of Queen Elizabeth to Worcester.
Virgil names three kinds of Pears which he received as a present from Cato:
"Nec surculus idem, Crustaneis, Syriisque pyris, gravibusque volemis."
The two first of these were Bergamots and Pounder Pears, whilst the last-named was called a volemus, because large enough to fill the hollow of the hand, (vola).
Mural paintings which have been disclosed at Pompeii represent the Pear tree and its fruit. In Pliny's time there were "proud" Pears, so called because they ripened early, and would not keep; and "winter" pears for baking, etc. Again, in the time of Henry the Eighth, a "warden" Pear, so named (Anglo-Saxon "wearden") from its property of long keeping, was commonly cultivated.
"Her cheek was like the Catherine Pear, The side that's next the sun,"
says one of our old poets concerning a small fruit seen often now-a-days in our London streets, handsome, but hard, and ill-flavored.
The special taste of Pears is chemically due for the most part to their containing amylacetate; and a solution of this substance in spirit is artificially prepared for making essence of Jargonelle Pears, as used for flavoring Pear drops and other sweetmeats. The acetate amyl is a compound ether got from vinegar and potato oil. Pears contain also malic acid, pectose, gum, sugar, and albumen, with mineral matter, cellulose, and water. Gerard says wine made of the juice of
Pears, called in English, Perry, "purgeth those that are not accustomed to drinke thereof, especially when it is new; notwithstanding, it is as wholesome a drink (being taken in small quantity) as wine; it comforteth and warmeth the stomacke, and causeth good digestion."
Perry contains about one per cent. alcohol over cider, and a slightly larger proportion of malic acid, so that it is rather more stimulating, and somewhat better calculated to produce the healthful effects of vegetable acids in the economy. How eminently beneficial fruits of such sort are when ripe and sound, even to persons out of health, is but little understood, though happily the British public is growing wiser to-day in this respect. For instance, it has been lately
discovered that there is present in the juice of the Pine-apple a vegetable digestive ferment, which, in its action, imitates almost identically the gastric juices of the stomach; and a demand for Bananas is developing rapidly in London since their wholesome virtues have become generally recognised. It is a remarkable fact that the epidemics of yellow fever in New Orleans have declined in virulence almost incredibly since the Banana began to be eaten there in considerable
quantities. If a paste of its ripe pulp dried in the sun be made with spice, and sugar, this will keep well for years.
At Godstone, as is related in Bray's Survey, the water from a well sunk close to a wild Pear tree (which bore fruit as hard as iron) proved so curative of gout, that large quantities of it were sent to London and sold there at the rate of sixpence a quart. Pears were deemed by the Romans an antidote to poisonous fungi; and for this reason, which subsequent experience has confirmed, Perry is still reckoned the best thing to be taken after eating freely of mushrooms, as also
Pear stalks cooked therewith.
There is an old Continental saying: Pome, pere, ed noce guastano la voce--"Apples, pears, and nuts spoil the voice," And an ancient rhymed distich says:
"For the cough take Judas eare,
With the parynge of a pear;
And drynke them without feare,
If ye will have remedy."
All Pears are cold, and have a binding quality, with an earthy substance in their composition.
It should be noted that Pears dried in the oven, and kept without syrup, will remain quite good, and eatable for a year or more.
Most Pears depend on birds for the dispersion of their seeds, but one striking variety prefers to attract bees, and the larger insects for cross-fertilization, and it has therefore assumed brilliant crimson petals of a broadly expanded sort, instead of bearing a succulent edible fruit, This is the highly ornamental Pyrus Japonica, which may so often be seen trained on the sunny walls of cottages.
The Primitive Simplers presented here show the way of life in other generations, it is not suggested or recommended trying them yourself.
History of Herbs
Herbs for Beginners
Drying & Preserving Herbs
Indoor Herb Gardening
Hints & Tips
Oil and Vinegar
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