When the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association planted its first trees in the Maine Heritage Orchard, in 2014, they were all apples — nary a pear to be found. But pears were once common on Maine homesteads. By the 1800s, probably a couple of dozen varieties had arrived from Europe, just like apples. So, a year into their project, the Heritage Orchard’s managers started grafting twigs, from the USDA National Clonal Germplasm Repository, of pear trees traditionally grown in Maine. Between the orchard and MOFGA’s neighboring fairgrounds, in Unity, 16 varieties have taken root, and staff finally got to bite into some of the fruit last fall. Like apples, pears can be eaten fresh, used in cooking, or pressed and fermented. Orchard assistant Lauren Cormier thinks of a great pear as “the ultimate dessert,” with an almost buttery texture and a bright sweetness. But apples fare better in northern climes, and, over time, heirloom pears petered out. Now, they’re Cormier’s white whale — she scours the state for unidentified heirlooms that might have survived the centuries. “We have yet to actually find some,” she says, “but it’s possible those trees still exist.”
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