History of pear growing distilled into personal stories

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Buks Nel and Henk Griessel, both residents of Somerset West and employees of Tru-Cape Fruit Marketing, have penned their third book together.Foto:
Buks Nel and Henk Griessel, both residents of Somerset West and employees of Tru-Cape Fruit Marketing, have penned their third book together.Foto:

Completing the trilogy, Somerset West locals Buks Nel and Henk Griessel, both from Tru-Cape Fruit Marketing, have completed their third book, this time dedicated to pears.

People, Pears and the Stories they Share will officially be launched at the XIV International Pear Symposium in Stellenbosch in January 2023. But according to the writers, this book is not a scientific tome but rather a collection of personal histories.

Anthony Rawbone-Viljoen, an apple and pear grower, of Oak Valley Estate in Elgin, said history has an all-too-frequent habit of disappearing into the mists of time. “This sad reality will inevitably come to pass unless caring individuals with an ear for local folklore take the trouble to capture fascinating tales that are well worth hearing again today,” he pointed out. “The stories are written in a relaxed and inviting style, with subtle humour that brings these ancient and captivating tales to life.”

Nel, Tru-Cape’s new varietal expert, and quality manager Griessel said growers and members of the public were invaluable in their contributions.

‘A forgotten highway in the Koue Bokkeveld’, a story we were told by Laastedrif in Ceres owner and Tru-Cape director Rossouw Cillé, would not have been in the book without his help and this applies to most of the memories captured,” he related.

Nel tells of a grower who left money in a trust for future generations. “There came a moment when the George Municipality got wind of the trust and wanted to use it to build a hospital in the town. But the trust’s administrators knew their mandate: ‘No money generated by the people of Grabouw shall be used for projects which do not benefit the local people’, so when the Grabouw Rugby Club needed funds for making a rugby field it was assisted.”

Added Griessel: “The club decided to organise a dance, but there was just one snag – no hall or dance venue. So they appealed to the trust for money, built a hall (on municipal land, with permission), and held their dance, which raised enough cash for the club to construct its rugby field. Two new assets for Grabouw thanks to the Wrights! The hall was named the Gerald Wright Memorial Hall and is now part of a municipal complex that hosts dozens of community-based projects and activities, and is now also known as the Thufong Centre. Various other institutions, such as the Elgin Learning Foundation and Huis Silwerjare, have also benefited from the Gerald Wright Memorial Trust.”

Most alumni of Stellenbosch University are proud of their Eikestad (City of Oaks). Oak-lined streets are as much a part of Stellenbosch as the maroon of the Maties’ rugby jerseys while other towns and villages may have their streets lined with willows or thorn trees. In the early days in Beaufort West no tree could be removed unless another, preferably a pear, was quickly planted to take its place. Today Beaufort West is festooned with pear trees.

According to Nel, a pear tree played a special role in the bootleg witblitz distilled in Calitzdorp, and the details are shared in the book. The Wild Asian pears of Nieu Bethesda are detailed, along with the oldest still producing Beurre Hardy pear orchard, planted many years ago and perfectly maintained by Elsenberg Agricultural College in Stellenbosch.

The calabash pear at Worcester’s Beckhuis may also be among the oldest.

The book explains the stories behind the oldest and second oldest pear trees in South Africa. “The oldest is a well-known matter of public record, and still stands in The Company’s Garden in Cape Town,” Griessel said. “But, to learn about the second oldest tree, you will have to buy the book [he winked].”

The book is richly illustrated by Nel’s wife Ros, an artist in her own right. With the help of book designers Miona Janeke and Staša Hlava a beautiful book has been produced.

Tru-Cape Fruit Marketing managing director Roelf Pienaar said the new book, along with The Newcomers and their Friends and Apples in the Early Days at the Cape will be an important and enjoyable resource for generations to come. The book, currently only in hard copy, is available to buy from Tru-Cape at R250 each at www.Tru-Cape.com.

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