This is a very old, extra large, sweet and buttery pear that was sold in California by Felix Gillet. The Beurre Clairgeau was originally grown by chance around 1830 in the gardens of Pierre Clairgeau in Nantes, France. It was first exhibited in 1848 and lauded for its buttery flavor, good texture, and sweet juice. Then it was taken to Brussels where it was propagated and sold at the markets.
Between 1880 and 1907 Felix Gillet, a young Frenchman who realized that miners arriving in California in the wake of the Gold Rush desperately needed food, imported many new varieties of fruit and nut trees from Europe. Gillet opened the Barren Hill Nursery in 1871, in Nevada City, California, the epicenter of the Gold Rush, and began selling his favorite varieties. Thus, Felix Gillet propagated in California some of the best fruit and nut trees and established the foundations for the major agricultural industries of the Pacific Western states. The Beurre Clairgeau was listed in Felix Gillet’s first catalog in 1876. The following is his most complete description from the Descriptive Catalogue and Price List of Plants and Trees, grown and For Sale by Felix Gillet, 1880: “Beurre Clairgeau – Fruit large from 12 to 18 oz. pyriform, beautifully shaped, splendid flavor, buttery and juicy; tree very vigorous and one of the most productive of the pear family; regular bearer. November to December. The size, very early bearing, productiveness and beauty of the fruit, together with its ripening in early winter or late in the fall, render this variety one of our most valuable.” – Felix Gillet
The arboreal archeologists of the Felix Gillet Institute have spent over forty years searching for the rare and delicious fruits and nuts of the California Gold Rush and have found only one tree of this variety. It is located at the former site of the Barren Hill Nursery in Nevada City, California, near the front porch of Felix Gillet’s house. It was obviously one of his favorite trees. It is excellent fresh, dried, as juice or for any culinary use. Pears are amenable to organic production. The mother tree of this variety has shown no infestation from codling moth or damage from pear blight, the two main pests of pears, and has been grown organically for over 120 years.
En mass, this pear variety is virtually unknown. The Felix Gillet Institute has propagated about forty daughter trees and sold them to individuals in the Northern California region. As of 2015, the individual fruit is not available commercially.