Here’s my observations and opinions of 5 different culinary pear varieties after 10 years of tending these full size standard trees (currently about 30 years of age on standard rootstock).
Summer Crisp: As the name suggests, it ripens in mid to late August, although depending on the season, I might rather call it Summer Soft, or worse. That's being a little harsh, but in general, it’s a decent disease resistant pear, with mostly annual productivity. Although in 2022 I did discover a handful of isolated fire blight (FB) strikes. However, these trees were surrounded by a severe FB outbreak, and fared much better than Stacey and Nova. Fruit quality can vary dramatically, and it seems that lower nutrient soils and dry years produce the best “crisp” pears, of high flavor and sugar, albeit low crop yields. Some trees over-crop, producing a lot of flavorless little green pears that drop prematurely and are best suited for animal feed or wildlife (IMO). I have made some excellent pear cider vinegar with this variety, but that’s about it. SC also seems very attractive to apple maggot fly, and this has been an issue, causing premature fruit drop and improper ripening.
Stacey: Stacey is an attractive, crisp and delicious summer pear, that could pass for an asian pear when slightly underripe It ripens about the same time as Summer Crisp in late August and early September. It is a very large tree and has been tough to prune. Ten years ago I brought some 30 ft trees down to a more manageable 20 feet, and despite marginal soil nutrition and no fertilization the trees have fought back with intense vertical growth every year since. I tried to allow some shoots to maintain apical dominance but it seemed to no avail. This rather bombastic pruning approach did put the trees into annual bearing, and the crop production was very consistent and high quality despite a lot of shading by the annual vegetative growth. Unfortunately, despite some nursery catalogs claiming Stacey to be fireblight resistant, I have found the opposite to be true. Of the 5 culinary pears listed here, it has been the worst affected and I may even be looking at some dead trees within a year or two. However, I have one Stacey tree that has never been pruned. It is about 30 feet tall and crops every other year. Despite widespread FB carnage all around it, the unpruned tree only saw a few shoot strikes, easily managed (although beyond my ladder reach). Conclusion: heavy annual pruning likely contributed to excessive FB damage.
Fire blight aside, Stacey is an exceptional eating pear and I have even found some value for it in fermentation. Average specific gravity in the 1.050’s and acidity very low, roughly 4-6 g/L malic. The juice yield is pretty high as well, with no press cloth clogging. The flavor is just ok, but strong pear aromatics can remain after some aging. If you have early season acidic perry pears (or other fruit, berries, etc), Stacey could be a good blending addition, with high annual crop yields. One harvest note: the fruit really needs to be tree picked. It does not pank (shake out) well at all. Tree picking 20+ ft in the air is very labor intensive. Jus sayin.
Nova: excellent eating pear and decent low acid blending addition for perry. Average specific gravity around 1.060, sometimes pushing up to 1.070. Unfortunately Nova is a bit prone to some mysterious fruit rots and Fireblight as well. The fireblight seems manageable though and I suspect better soil nutrition, trace minerals, etc, could really help with the other fungal and bacterial issues. Despite these issues, I still manage to get a small but moderate to high quality crop every year. It also needs to be tree picked, which can be a hassle compared to other perry varieties that can simply be shaken out. Nova is very tender, easily bruised and rots quickly. Ripens late September in these parts (1400 ft central Vermont, US).
Lucious: If I had to recommend one pear on this short list, this would be it. This variety is a smaller, more compact and easily managed tree, annually cropping, good fruit quality with some insect resistance, and very good fireblight resistance (although not 100% immune). The foliage turns a beautiful scarlet red in the fall as well.
The crop could be shaken, but I usually do a combination of tree picking and panking into deep soft grass in late September & early October. The fruit keeps for about a month at cellar temperatures and has a very high juice yield (3 gallons /bushel) at the press. Proper sweating is key though, but letting them overripe can lead to press cloth clogging. You could say that for any of the pear varieties listed here though. Avg specific gravity 1.055 - 1.065 and acidity around 4-6 g/L malic. The flavor is not bad, but not great either, its just kind of meh, with a nice perry-like aroma. So this is really better suited as a low acid blending base with some other fruit that has more tannin and acidity.
A note on Lucious pear for eating quality: while it does seem to have some insect resistance, the insect blemishes that do occur cause a lot of grit cells and odd shaped fruit (some would call it "ugly"). This has not affected juice quality for me though.
Flemish Beauty: Honestly can’t say much about this variety. I have 5 big 30-yr old trees that look mostly healthy, but never produce more than a handful of rock hard little russeted nuggets that look more like acorns. I have even given these trees extra soil amenities, trace minerals, compost, etc., still, no love back. It’s possible they were grafted to unproductive rootstock back in the early 90’s. Or perhaps central VT is just not a good growing zone for this variety.
I am only in 5th and 6th leaf with these varieties, grafted to OHxF 97 and seedling rootstocks. Here’s my observations so far.
Henderson Huffcap, Yellow Huffcap, Gin and Butt all seem to be growing about the same, just ok. No fireblight strikes yet, but vigor is low and there have been no blooms. All have had some moderate pear leaf blister mite issues, but seem to be growing out of that now.
Blakeney Red seems to be going the best, with nice healthy looking trunks and foliage. They are the first to leaf out in spring though, so this may be problematic with late frosts. I have heard from another grower in Quebec that Blakeney Red is growing exceptionally well, as compared to some of the other European perry pears listed here.
This is where my main pear focus is. 6 years ago, I was lucky enough to gain access to a veritable wild pear forest. Continued access has been touch and go though. The genetic variability at this spot (based on fruit and growing habit observations) is truly exceptional. In 2018 I was able to single out three different varieties for fermentation, which was narrowed down from a dozen or so. One of them emerged as the best. I have been calling it Tomo Whaga, an adaptation of Abenaki words roughly translating to "not any, none" “body”, as the source tree is growing on corporate land near the side of an interstate. This fruit was also documented in the 2022 Pomological Exhibit (US).
Specific gravity tested 1.063 in 2020. Yield 3.1 gallons/bushel on rack and cloth press. Very high astringent tannin, moderate to high acidity, although somewhat variable from 2018-2022. Too intense for single variety, but blended well with dessert pears in 2020. Hard biennial but very large crops on a sturdy upright tree, showing no obvious signs of disease. Fruit naturally drops form the tree and is easily ground harvested without skin breakage or premature rot.
Given some complications concerning land access, the lurking potential that this piece of land will be cleared and developed, and the difficulty of showing up at precisely the right time to observe bloom and then subsequently harvest, I have shifted my focus to collecting seed from as many trees as possible. In 2022 I gathered seed from some of the more productive trees, all of which had very high acid, high tannin fruit, growing on large, tall, sturdy trees, showing little or no signs of fireblight or other disease. This is a long game. I am sharing scion wood for Tomo Whaga to the best of my ability. Reach out if you are interested.
-Teddy Weber, Roxbury VT