The Windsor/Detroit region’s historic Jesuit Pear Tree has been accepted into Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste. The Ark of Taste is an international effort highlighting distinctive culinary traditions and products facing extinction due to a variety of factors, including plant disease, loss of traditions, or low production. Since 1996, the International Ark of Taste has identified 3,500 products from 150 countries. It is an important tool used by chefs, farmers, grocers, and educators to promote our biological, cultural, and culinary heritage, showcasing the links between biodiversity and culture. Currently Ark of Taste USA lists approximately 200 historically and culturally significant products.
In early 2015 a conversation between French-Canadian and Métis cultural advocates Darlene Navarre Darley and James LaForest, led to Darley spearheading an effort to have the Jesuit Pear Trees included in the Ark of Taste. Her efforts led to a tasting of the fruit in Monroe, Michigan in September 2016, the weekend of the Annual French Canadian Descendants Reunion organized by Sandy Vanisacker at the River Raisin National Battlefield Park.
The tasting was held at the historic Navarre-Anderson Trading Post and organized by Monroe County Historical Museum curator Lynn Reaume. Jean Tremblay, a grower from Pointe-aux-Roches, Ontario provided samples from his family farm of both fresh and pickled pears, and spoke about their history and culinary uses. Representatives of the Midwest SlowFood USA chapter were on hand to complete their investigation into the fruit trees as were several lucky tasters, including Dawn Evoe-Danowski, vice-president of the French Canadian Heritage Society of Michigan. Also attending the tasting was Richard Micka of Sawyer House, City of Monroe. Darley, Evoe-Danowski, and Vanisacker are all descendants of François Navarre who brought Jesuit Pear seedlings from Detroit to Monroe when he founded the settlement in 1789.
The Jesuit Pear Trees were included in the Ark of Taste database as of December 2016. More can be read at the Ark of Taste website as well as in the Encyclopedia of French Cultural Heritage in North America. According to Darley, “the inclusion of the Jesuit Pears in the Ark of Taste will mean exposure to professional growers and food producers, and hopefully create a demand for the pears and trees.” It is hoped that this living link to the founding of Detroit can be perpetuated into the 21st century, and take its place in Detroit’s renaissance, a place once known as the ‘largest village west of Montreal.’