Huge, pretty, and early, the Lawson Pear had the kind of showy features that caught the public eye, but for gastronomes and pomologists it lacked the sugary, buttery, dulcet qualities that made one love pears. Indeed, when the American Pomological Association critiqued the variety in 1885, it was rated only Fair. One consumer opined, “we can hardly determine which to prefer—this or a raw potato” (T. T. Lyon, “The Lawson Pear,” Michigan Farmer (November 3, 1885), 3).

It became a fixture in nursery catalogues in the 1880s, but it had originated in the 1840s, and was sold sometimes under the name Comet, othertimes under the name that would eventually prevail—Lawson. It commanded a market because of its earliness as a summer pear—and the fact that among early pears it had a passable flavor, something rare in quick ripening fruit. It also had a skin that captured attention—vermillion on yellow.

Nurseryman D. O. Munson of Virginia supplied the general estimation of the fruit in his catalogue: “Tree, a vigorous, upright grower, with clean healthy foliage; has never been affected with blight or disease; very productive; fruit large, firm, and a good shipper; beautiful red color on yellow ground, crisp and juicy, thought not best in quality.” (Catalogue of Ornamental an Fruit Trees, Munson Hill Nurseries and Greenhouses, 1908. p12). It ripened in middle July. But a sapling took from 8 to 10 years before bearing fruit.

Image: U.S. Department of Agriculture Pomological Watercolor Collection. Rare and Special Collections, National Agricultural Library, Beltsville, MD 20705, Deborah Passmore, 1895.

David S. Shields