The aristocratic Bosc
For two centuries, the Bosc has been praised as being nearly flawless—except for the tree itself.
For many in the United States, when they think of pears, the image is of the fully ripe, yellow, fragrant, juicy Bartlett pear. But for gourmands who look for the unique in all foods, there is, for pears, the Bosc.
Although some sources state the origin of the Bosc is France, Jean-Baptiste van Mons, a Belgian, is more likely to have bred the Calabasse (gourdlike) Bosc in approximately 1807. Van Mons produced more than 40 successful pear varieties and is the same breeder who introduced the Beurré d’Anjou in 1819 [as Nec Plus Meuris] (Good Fruit Grower “Last Bite,” May 1, 2011). The Calabasse Bosc was later renamed Beurré (buttery) Bosc, then simply Bosc.
With an elongated teardrop profile, encrusted in a mottled-gold russet, the noble-looking Bosc has had some pretty decent snob appeal since its origin two centuries ago. But its natural aristocratic air was enhanced with the choice for its name.
Where most fruit varieties boast the name of where they were discovered or by whom, the Bosc was given the name of a famous French horticulturist and aristocrat, Louis Bosc (1759-1828), who was a French consul in New York during the French Revolution and who, after the war, gained international fame in his capacity as head of state gardens of France.
The Bosc had a regal appearance and was named after an aristocrat—but what about taste and texture?
Other fruit are juicy or flavorful or crisp, but the Bosc tends to be described more like a fine wine: “Their long, curved stem and elegant, elongated neck which widens gradually to a full rounded base, creates a silhouette that is unique among pears,” gushes the USA Pears Web site, adding that the Bosc has a “melting, slightly fibrous flesh, and a nutty flavor with hints of vanilla and spice.”
You get the picture. There are pears, then there are Bosc.
Although it’s considered a premium variety that is exceptionally hardy and adaptable, not everything is perfect about Bosc. Just ask a grower.
Some think tree training the willful Bosc requires growers to force branches to behave themselves, to insist that they have some sort of pattern to their form. That’s not easy. Branches seem to find their own way to the sun, shooting off willy-nilly in asymmetrical twists that can make it difficult to grow and harvest. But, the problem with tree management may be more of the grower’s making than the pear’s, says grower Ron Meyer of Meyer Orchards.
Meyer, whose 100-year-old family operation is Oregon’s largest Bosc producer, is a big fan of the pear. He said that it’s the russet that makes Bosc such
a premium pear. Spring rains during bloom time, he said, help the Rogue River Valley near Medford produce some of the world’s most heavily russetted fruit. “This is the Bosc District,” he said,
“Good russet on our Bosc pears can bring two to three dollars a box premium.”
According to Meyer, despite the pear’s reputation, growing them really isn’t all that difficult, although tree management would be harder if a grower wanted a three-leader, open-vase system. Bosc trees don’t easily comply. “They have a straight-up growing habit,” he said. Accept their independent habits, and they aren’t a problem.
Meyer’s family’s long history with the pear has seen the Bosc cycle through periods that have greatly affected the pear’s success. In the early twentieth century, Bosc was the king of pears. Then, during the Great Depression, the public wanted smaller fruit, so growers began picking them before they had reached maturity. The result was smaller fruit that withered around the stem and had poor texture and keeping properties. “That almost killed the Bosc,” he said. Then, polyethylene liners were developed, giving consumers a good pear again.
“I wish some of those growers who wanted the small pears were around today,” Meyer said. “Now, people want big pears.”
After a century, the Bosc pear still has its cachet as a privileged fruit. Its admirers speak of it as they do fine wines, and the taste and appearance are as elegant as they were when the fruit was honored with Louis Bosc’s name. Let the tree decide how it will grow, pick a site that naturally gives the pear russet, let it fully mature, then pick it for a exceptional visual and taste experience. Only the grower needs to know the bad behavior that some say makes this regal offspring so difficult to grow well.
SOURCES: The Pears of New York, Ulysses P. Hedrick, 1921 (illustration); Les Botanistes et la Flore de France, B. Dyrat, 2003; Fruits and Fruit Trees of North America, Andrew Downing, 1845; Dictionaire de Pomologie, André Leroy, 1868).