Seedlings of pear trees planted by the padres at San Juan Bautista are now, more than 200 years later, the oldest fruit trees in California. They remain in a fair state of vigor in spite of long neglect, producing large amounts of fruit yearly. Seeds of commercial pears were planted in the early mining days in the Sierra foothills and a few Oriental pears were planted by Chinese immigrants. Later, grafted trees were brought to California from Oregon, the eastern United States, and even South America and Europe. Pear trees are in the same class as apple trees and both belong to the rose family.
The Oldest Pear Tree In Moraga
In 1997, Bro Dennis Goodman wrote that "since Moraga has so few historic buildings, it has been necessary to memorialize ancient trees planted by our antecedents." Among the trees declared by the Moraga Historical Society as "Heritage Trees" is a five- trunk winter pear tree on the lawn of Moraga Villa (at the corner of Moraga Road and St. Mary's Road). According to old records, it was (possibly) planted at the turn of the Century!
The developers of Villa Moraga had this pear tree cut down, but shoots (called "suckers") emerged from the root and, happily, today we have a tree with five trunks! The 5-foot diameter solid globe of its leaves and white blossoms on the multiple trunks presents a glorious sight in the Spring.
Pear Orchards in Moraga
The majority of the pears in the Moraga Valley are Bartlett pears, planted by James Irwin, of the Moraga Company, around 1913, and are still going strong despite neglect. In May, 1929, the Manager of the Moraga Company, E. M. Rice, wrote several letters to the University of California College of Agriculture and the California Pear Growers Association, asking how long would their trees, by then about 16 years old, continue producing.
The responses, in the file at our History Center, indicated that pear trees are some of the hardiest and most long-lived of deciduous trees and that there were, at the time, pear trees producing after 100 years. It was suggested that "if managed properly, they should be better the second hundred years than the first hundred."
By 1923, Bartlett pears shipped out of the Moraga Valley were sent either to the East Coast or to the Oakland Canneries and were reputed to be "as fine in quality as any found within the State."
Resources: Moraga Pear Pie Recipe - an award winning recipe by Jean Podell (1990)
Other websites of interest: California Pears - Welcome to the World of California Bartlett Pears