Saturday, December 4, 2021

Sheldon Pear


Sheldon Pear. Photo Credit: Joan Morgan

Were the fruits alone to be considered, Sheldon would take rank as one of the best of all pears. The fruits please both the eye and the palate. Those of no rival in season surpass them either in appearance or in characters that satisfy taste. While not large, the fruits are of sufficient size to meet the demands of a good dessert pear. The shape is a perfect turbinate, truncated at the base of the fruit, usually very symmetrical, and the fruits run uniform in shape. In color, the pears are distinctive in their russeted skin, with a handsome ruddy cheek. 

Color-plate of Sheldon from Pears of New York

The accompanying color-plate does not do justice to the fruit in illustrating size, shape, or color. The flesh is melting and juicy, and deserves, more than that of almost any other pear, the adjective luscious. The flavor is sweet, vinous, and highly perfumed. The fruits keep well, ship well, and sell well during their season, and are esteemed both for dessert and for culinary purposes. The list of faults in the trees is as long as the list of virtues in the fruits. The trees, while large, vigorous, and hardy, blight as badly as any pear-tree in the orchard, are reluctant in coming in bearing, niggardly in production, and seldom hold their crop well. With these faults of the tree, Sheldon is not a commercial variety of high rank, but the splendid fruits make it worth growing by the pear-fancier, in the home orchard, or for the markets where the faults of the trees are not too marked. The variety grows better in New York, possibly, than in any other part of the United States.

This pear is a native of the town of Huron, New York. The original tree stood on the premises of Major Sheldon, having sprung from seed brought by his father from Washington, New York, about 1815. The fruit was first exhibited at the Pomological Convention in Syracuse in the autumn of 1849. In 1854, Sheldon was mentioned by the American Pomological Society as promising well, and in 1856 it was given a place in the Society's fruit-catalog.

Botanical description: 
Tree large, vigorous, upright-spreading, rapid-growing, hardy, moderately productive; trunk stocky; branches thick, reddish-brown, overlaid with dull gray scarf-skin, marked with large lenticels; branches thick, dull brown, glabrous, with numerous slightly raised, conspicuous lenticels. Leaf-buds large, above medium in length, obtuse or somewhat pointed, appressed. 

Leaves 2-1/2 in. long, 1-1/2 in. wide, oval, leathery; apex taper-pointed; margin finely serrate; petiole if in. long. Flower-buds conical or pointed, free; flowers i| in. across, in dense clusters, 13 or 14 buds in a cluster; pedicels 5 in. long, thick, pubescent, greenish. 

Fruit matures in October; large, 2-3/4 in. long, 2-1/2 in. wide, uniform in size and shape, turbinate, often with a tendency to oblateness, symmetrical; stem 3/4 in. long, thick, nearly straight; cavity obtuse, deep, slightly furrowed, occasionally lipped; calyx large, open; lobes very broad, obtuse; basin wide, obtuse, symmetrical; skin thick, granular, tender, roughish; color dull greenish-yellow, with a brownish-red blush, overspread with russet nettings and streaks; dots numerous, small, russet; flesh whitish, somewhat granular, tender and melting, very juicy, sweet, and vinous, with a rich and pleasantly aromatic flavor; quality very good to best. Core large, closed, with clasping core-lines; calyx-tube short, wide, conical; seeds acute.        -U.P. Hedrick's Pears of New York

I worked with a man named George Kaufman. Every fall he brought in bags of pears from the tree in his backyard.

The tree had been growing there when he moved in.

He cheerfully let me cut a few twigs from the tree to graft.

The pear "keys out" as Sheldon.

I am mostly a curmudgeon when it comes to heirloom (also known as 'obsolete') varieties. 99% of the time they are obsolete for very good reasons. 

I am going to graft a handful of Sheldon trees in spite of that.

Canning pears consumes a great deal of space and labor and happens at the end of August, one of the hottest times of year.

One reason that canning pears consumes a great deal of space is that Bartlett and most European pears have to be picked slightly under-ripe, refrigerated for a while and then ripened at room temperature. Most European pears that ripen on-the-tree are either insipid mush or as fragile as a warm stick of butter. 

The pears need to be picked when there is just the tiniest amount of "give" when your thumb presses against the neck, stored in a cool place for a week or two, then spread on shelves and inspected daily watching for the ground color to get a yellowish tinge. Then to can.

Canning pears is labor intensive primarily because of the steps involved in removing the skin. The skin is either scaulded and the slipped off or they are peeled by hand. Both methods are messy, juicy, sticky, carpel-tunnel pain-in-the-but jobs.

Why Sheldon?

But Sheldon ripens at the end of September and is edible right off the tree.

Sheldon is nearly round so peeling can be automated. It does not need to be done as fast as shown above.

Some of the issues with Sheldon can be addressed by grafting it over quince rootstocks. Sheldon is not compatible directly on quince. The quince puts out toxic chemicals and Sheldon lacks the enzymes that detoxifies them. But there are other pear varieties that are nearly immune to the toxic chemical and I can "double work" the trees. That is, assemble a tree with a 4" length of the immune variety between the quince rootstock and the Sheldon scion.

I can address the other issues by "managing" my way out of them.

For example: Fruit drop is often related to inadequate nitrogen status at blooming while fire-blight susceptibility is related to excessive nitrogen during the growing season. That was a "hard" conflict when fertilizing with manure as was common in 1910.

Today I have the option of spraying the tree's canopy with 1% calcium nitrate solution in early September when it is unlikely to induce new growth. The tree will absorb the nutrients through its leaves. The tree over-winters with a high nitrogen status which it quickly depletes after blooming when the branches leaf out.

I think we are also way smarter today about managing the tree canopy to optimize sunlight penetration. It is not that we are smarter today but that there has been a great deal of economic incentive toward dwarf trees and the collective knowledge is more widely disseminated.


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  2. Optimizing sunlight by canopy management is where I screwed up with my Santa Rosa Plum tree. I neglected it for too many years and it got away from me. It always produced a lot of fruit, but not of significant size to do anything with other than feed the birds and bugs.

    I ended up cutting it down. I reckon I'll find out if the wood is any good for making small boxes and carving when it dries. It's supposed to be good for carving spoons.

    I've got some Bartlett Pear wood in my shop that's been drying for a couple of years, as well as some Apple wood. Fruit wood is good for some woodworking projects, mostly tool handles and turnings.

    When I plant the next one, I'm going to make sure it gets more sunlight and take better care to keep the height more manageable.

  3. I miss pear preserves... sigh...

  4. Do you know where Sheldon pear trees can be purchased from?


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