Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert: Book IX, Chapter XXIII (Of the Wild Pear Trees or Avocados of the Mainland)

Book IX, Chapter XXIII

Of the wild pear trees (or avocados) of the Mainland.[1]

Translated by Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert

In the governance of Castilla del Oro, in the Capira mountain range and the land of the cacique Juanaga, and in other parts of the Cueva region,[2] there can be found some large and beautiful trees that the Christians call pear trees. However, the fruit they produce are pears only in their shape and color, but in nothing else, since the skin is as thick as a Cordovan boot and the flesh inside is no thicker than a goose feather, or at its thickest like that of a swan; the pit is a large one and takes up the remaining space, and it is not so much a pit as a large seed covered by a delicate skin provided by nature so that the edible part of the fruit does not touch the seed, which is very bitter. These pears are as large as the large wine pears of Spain or like the ones from the island of Palma, which I think are the best and most beautiful in the world. In short, these I am speaking of from the Mainland, many of them weigh a pound, some more and some less, and should not be undervalued, because they never ripen on the tree—instead, once they are grown they gather the largest among them and place them in a corner of the house on a bit of grass or dry straw to ripen, as they do in Spain with the pomes from the sorb tree. After they are ripe, it is very easy to cut the rind around it, and the seed inside comes off on its own, skin and all, along with the rind, and what remains to be eaten is like butter and is a very pleasing dish—in my opinion better than the pears of Castile. These trees are tall, high-crowned and cool, and their leaves are similar to those of the laurel, but larger and greener. Cutting this pear’s seed with a knife, it looks like a peeled grafted chestnut. The truth is that I placed this tree here because it is wild and I have seen them growing in the mountains, as I have said, and neither the Indians nor the Christians invest any industry or labor in cultivating them, and their sole gardener is God, as I said in the report I wrote in Toledo, addressed to his Caesarean Majesty in 1526; some years later, however, I saw many of these pear trees in the province of Nicaragua, planted by hand in the Indians’ estates or settlements, and cultivated by them. And some of those trees are as large as walnut trees, but the pears are smaller than those of Cueva. These pears taste very well with cheese, but once they are seasoned, they spoil and rot if they are not eaten right away. This tree or pear tree could also be included in the preceding book about fruit trees, but it is not out of place here—for they were first wild trees before men turned their attention to cultivating them.

[1] AR: This tree is the avocado, which come in three varieties. In some provinces of the New Kingdom they are called cura. [AR]

[2] EE: Today this region is known as the Isthmus of Panama, also historically known as the Isthmus of Darien; at the time it was referred to as the lengua de Cueva or the Cueva isthmus, after the Cueva Indians that occupied that region in Eastern Panama.  [EE]

Image: Chromolithograph from Le Jardin Fleuriste, published from 1851 to 1854.