The History of Pears in California

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 variety pear trees were planted in the state by Chinese immigrants.  Later, grafted trees were brought to California from Oregon, the eastern United States, and even South America and Europe.  Pear trees and apple trees belong to the rose family.

The Oldest Pear Tree In Moraga

In 1997, Brother 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 the Moraga Villa development at the corner of Moraga Road and St. Mary’s Road.  According to old records, it may have been planted at the turn of the 20th century.

The developers of Villa Moraga had this pear tree cut down, but shoots emerged from the root and today we have a tree with five trunks.  The five-foot diameter solid globe of its leaves and white blossoms on the multiple trunks presents a glorious  sight in Spring.

Pear Orchards in Moraga

The majority of the pears in the Moraga Valley are Bartlett pears, from trees planted by James Irvine, of the Moraga Company, around 1913. These trees are still going strong.  In May of 1929, then 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 the trees, by then about 16 years old, continue producing.

The responses, in a vertical file at our History Center, indicate 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 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