Left: D’Anjou grows well in the Pacific Northwest’s dry climate. Right: This photo was taken at the National Clonal Germplasm Repository in Corvallis, Oregon, where varieties are grown unsprayed to reveal their natural characteristics, such as the scab on these d’Anjou pears. Inset: Belgian physicist, chemist, and amateur pomologist Jean-Baptiste Van Mons is thought to have developed the d’Anjou pear almost two centuries ago.
The Beurré d’Anjou pear—also known as d’Anjou or simply Anjou—was imported from Europe into the United States in 1842 by Boston merchant Marshall Pinckney Wilder, founder of the American Pomological Society. During his lifetime, Wilder tested 1,200 cultivars of pears at his orchard at Dorchester, Massachusetts.
Although some believe that the d’Anjou originated as a chance seedling in the Anjou region of France before 1700, an account published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Germplasm Repository states that the variety was in fact bred in the nineteenth century in Belgium, where it goes by an entirely different name.
Jean-Baptiste Van Mons, a Belgian physicist, chemist, and pomologist, did the first recorded selective breeding of European pears through cycles of seed propagation. He produced more than 40 superior pear varieties in his garden at Leuven, near Brussels. He readily shared his observations and plants, and developed ways to export cuttings and seedlings.The varieties he developed included Nec Plus Meuris, which he named in 1819 as a compliment to his gardener, Pierre Meuris, whom he described as a pomological genius.
It is believed that the pear that Wilder imported from Europe and exhibited in the United States in 1844 as Beurré d’Anjou, was actually Nec Plus Meuris.
A.J. Downing, author of Fruits and Fruit Trees of America, published in 1846, described Beurré d’Anjou as a large pear with smooth greenish-yellow skin, a little clouded with russet around the calyx, and a short stem. The flesh was yellowish-white, fine grained and buttery, with a “sprightly vinous” flavor.
English writer Robert Hogg, in his 1884 book The Fruit Manual: Containing the Descriptions and Synonyms of the Fruits and Fruit Trees of Great Britain, described Nec Plus Meuris as a medium-sized pear with a very short stem and a rough, dull, yellow skin very much covered with dark brown russet. The flesh was yellowish white, buttery, and melting, with a rich, sugar, and vinous flavor. “A first-rate pear,” he concluded.
André Leroy, a nineteenth century French nursery owner and author of a six-volume dictionary of pomology, claimed that Beurré d’Anjou was a name erroneously given to Nec Plus Meuris. And, in fact, a tree obtained from France in 1913 for the National Germplasm Repositary that was labeled “Nec Plus Meuris” proved to be identical to the d’Anjou pear grown in the Pacific Northwest.
Being susceptible to scab, the d’Anjou pear thrived best in the arid conditions of the Pacific Northwest where it became one of the two major pear varieties. The Northwest now produces more than ten million boxes of d’Anjou annually.
The first commercially acceptable red strain of the d’Anjou pear was the Gebhard, originally called LeRoi, which was discovered as a bud mutation in Medford, Oregon, by Harold and Edward Gebhard. It was discovered in the 1940s and patented in 1960. Apart from its red skin, the variety was similar to the green d’Anjou.
The next was the Columbia Red d’Anjou, a long-storing red sport discovered in 1976 in the top of a 60-year-old d’Anjou tree by Gene Euwer, a grower at Hood River, Oregon. The fruit was reported to have lower rates of respiration and ethylene production, resulting in a longer storage life than standard d’Anjou, and higher acids and soluble solids than the standard d’Anjou or Gebhard Red Anjou. It was patented in 1988.