Click HERE to read an ancient Chinese story by P'u Sung-ling about pears and greed.

"For streaks of red were mingled there, Such as are on a Catherine pear"
--Sir John Suckling (1609-1642), "I Prithee Send Me Back"

I most han of the peres that I see,
Or I moot die, so sore longeth me
To eten of the smale peres greene.
Help for hir love that is of hevene queene!

--Sir Geoffrey Chaucer, "The Merchant's Tale," in the Cantebury Tales

I was eating pears!
she said.

I sat beside her on the bed
of Picasso

a portrait of
a sensitive young boy

into himself
I was eating pears!

she said
when separate jointly
we embraced
--William Carlos Williams, "The Fruit," Pictures from Brueghel (1962)

"In olden times in Switzerland pears grew a thousand times bigger than the pears we eat today. They were called 'Southerners'. When one of these Southerners dropped from a tree it took 3 strong men to roll it along and down into the cellar, where it was tapped and the juice drawn off. Two other men came with a cross-cut saw, and sawed off its stalk, loaded it on to a heavy oxcart and drove it to the sawmill, where panels for wainscotting were cut out of it."
--a Tall Tale from Swiss folklore

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(genus Pyrus)

Native to Europe and Asia, pears were first cultivated in prehistory, as evidenced in the remains of the lake dwellers. But the ancient Phoenicians, Jews, and pre-Christian Romans talked about them--and grew several improved sorts. Pliny, in the 1st century AD, lists some 41 varieties; Palladius (4th century Roman poet/agriculturalist), some 56. By the renaissance, the list was up to 209 (Grande Duke Cosimo III in Italy), although only some 60 were known in Britain in the mid 17th century.

Despite the thousands of varietals of the two species (the European Pyrus communis and the Oriental Pyrus pyrifolia), a really sweet and juicy version was not developed until the 19th century when Belgian chemist Jean Baptiste Van Mons began to hybridize the fruit.

What does the great 17th century English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper say? He says,

"Pear Trees are so well known, that they need no description.... The Tree belongs to Venus, and so doth the Apple tree. For their physical use they are best discerned by their taste. All the sweet and luscious sorts, whether manured or wild, do help to move the belly downwards, more or less. Those that are hard and sour, do, on the contrary, bind the belly as much, and the leaves do so also. Those that are moist do in some sort cool, but harsh or wild sorts much more, and are very good in repelling medicines; and if the wild sort be boiled with mushrooms, it makes them less dangerous. The said Pears boiled with a little honey, help much the oppressed stomach, as all sorts of them do, some more, some less: but the harsher sorts do more cool and bind, serving well to be bound to green wounds, to cool and stay the blood, and heal up the green wound without farther trouble, or inflammation, as Galen saith he hath found by experience. The wild Pears do sooner close up the lips of green wounds than others. Schola Selerni advises to drink much wine after Pears, or else (say they) they are as bad as poison; nay, and they curse the tree for it too; but if a poor man find his stomach oppressed by eating Pears, it is but working hard, and it will do as well as drinking wine."

At the same time, pears even by this time were long associated with love and sex...and who cannot think of poor January in Chaucer's "The Merchant's Tale"? There he was, that old bitter man with his young wife May--there he was, physically blind and spiritually blind in his garden at the base of the pear tree, which already held May's lover Damian:

This fresshe May, that is so bright and sheene,
Gan for to sike and saide, "Allas, my side!
Now sire," quod she, "for ought that may bitide
I most han of the peres that I see,
Or I moot die, so sore longeth me
To eten of the smale peres greene.
Help for hir love that is of hevene queene!
I tell you wel, a womman in my plit
May han to fruit so greet an appetit
That she may dien buth she of it have."

"Allas," quod he, "that I ne hadde heer a knave
That coulde climbe! Allas, allas," quod he,
"For I am blind!" "Ye, sire, no fors," quod she.
"But wolde ye vouche sauf, for Goddes sake,
The pirye inwith youre armes for to take--
For wel I woot that ye mistruste me--
Than shoulde I climb wel ynough," quod she, "So I my foot mighte sette upon youre bak."

"Certes," quod he, "thereon shal be no lak,
Might I you helpen with myn herte blood."
He stoupeth down, and on his bak she stood,
And caughte hir by a twiste, and up she gooth.
Ladies, I praye you that ye be nat wroth:
I can nat glose, I am a rude man.
And sodeinly anoon this Damian
Gan pullen up the smok and in he throong.

That said, pear tree wood is beautifully aromatic and is loved by artist cabinetmakers; the bark of the tree contains a yellow dye and also an antibiotic extract; and the leaves have been used pharmacologically for renal and urinary infections.