The crunch pears Essay

A new fruit is gaining popularity in Western produce markets and homegardens. It’s the Asian pear, crisp like an apple, mellow andbursting with juice like a pear, but with a breaking texture and a freshflavor distinctly its own. Almost as appealing as the clean, crunchy taste is the ease ofhandling the fruit.

There’s no mystique about when to pick or howto ripen: Asian pears are ready to eat when you pick them off the treeor buy them in the market. The fruit is virtually indesructible. Youcan store it more than a week at room temperature, for three months ormore in the refrigerator. Unlike most pers, it can go into achild’s lunch bag and still be edible by noon. Are they as good asregular pears? “Better!” voted tasters who felt lukewarm to negativeabout other pears.

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“They’re light and refreshing, lessgritty, and not so cloyingly sweet.” Loyal fans of European pears disagree: “A pleasant change, butno match for the ‘Bartlett’.” Or, more strongly:”With a few exceptions, watery and insipid; there’s nocomparison.” Only a taste can help you decide which camp you belong in. Now isthe prime time for sampling. California crops come ripe off the treesfrom late July into early October; Oregon and Washington fruits areabout a month behind.

Here we tell where to buy them, differences in varieties, and waysto eat them. For those who get hooked, we also give information ongrowing them. You may find them in your supermarket Some large chains expect to offer Asian pears this year. Specialtygrocers usually have one or two kinds in stock, or can special-orderthem for you by the box. The larger the fruit, the higher the price:from $1 to $4 or more a pound. Oriental markets vary more in kinds and quality, from individuallywrapped gems to battered russets that taste like jicama. Appearance canbe deceiving–ugly, unnamed fruits may taste ambrosial. You may also find some at roadside stands in areas where most aregrown: in the Sierra foothills around Loomis and Newcastle; aroundLindsay and Reedley near Fresno; or around Wenatchee and Yakima,Washington.

What’s the best way to eat them? Asians we interviewed were unanimous: The way to eat an Asian pearis to peel thinly, slice in slim, crosswise pieces, and munch off theflesh around the core. Besides the flower-like look of the slices, thisis a practical way to eat every morsel except the small, gritty core. Some Orientals like to add a dash of salt; our tasters enjoyed asqueeze of lime.

Almost everyone likes the fruit best raw. But some tasters who found them too bland when eaten fresh likedthem cooked. Cooking can enhance their mild flavor while retainingtheir crisp texture. Suggestions for ways to serve them cooked or rawfollow on page 75. Some varietal differences With one exception, most Westerners like round, green- toyellow-skinned kinds best, both in our taste tests and those by UCDavis. These varieties tend to be smoother and juicier, with fruityflavor. Use skin color in the photograph on page 74 to help youevaluate ripeness: green-skinned kinds are prime for eating or storagewhen they turn the yellow-green color of ‘Ya Li’. Greenerfruits will be tarter; yellow ones sweeter, but they won’t keep aslong.

These three rank almost equally: ‘Twentieth Century’, also called ‘Nijisseiki’or ‘Apple Pear’, is the most popular and widely sold, both asfruit and as trees. Smooth, fruity, and slightly tart, it has a thin,relatively tender skin. ‘Shinseiki’ looks and tastes similar but is a littletarter.

It ripens earliest. ‘Kikusui’ is a new challenger to ‘TwentiethCentury’; some people like it even better. It is smooth, sweet,and a little tart. Unlike other green-skins, it doesn’t turn yelloweven when fully ripe.

The pear-shaped Chinese varieties, ‘Ya Li’ and ‘TsuLi’, were too mild to be favorites raw but equalled those abovewhen cooked. Russets elicit strongly divided opinions, partly because it’sharder to tell when they’re ripe. For best eating and storage, look for russets teh golden-brownshade of ‘Hosui’. Earlier, when greenish, dusty brown, ormottled like ‘Niitaka’, they are crisp and juicy but bland andvegetable-like.

Tree-ripened with an orange glow, they taste sweeterbut won’t keep as long. Full ripening also accentuates anyaromatic flavor–particularly in ‘Chojuro’. This beautifulfruit is one of the most widely sold, but its distinctive flavor is themost controversial–people either love it or hate it. ‘Hosui’is juicy, fine-textured and attractive, but subtle.’Ishiiwase’ and ‘Niitaka’ were undistinguished. The exception to the mixed reactions to the russets is’Shinko’. This little-known variety kept its rich flavor andfirm, fine texture even after prolonged storage made the skin crinkle.

Fresh, or peeled and poached, it was rated by all as one of the tastiestand most beautiful. Since it’s new, both trees and fruit are inshort supply. If you want to grow your own Covered with white flowers in spring and loaded with green togolden fruit in summer, Asian pear trees are quite handsome. In coldclimates, their thick canopy of leaves turns bright red in fall; inmild-winter areas, leaves turn yellow. Asian pears bear fruit in about half as many years as it takesEuropean varieties. You should have a substantial crop in three to fouryears. Some may fruit the first year–pinch off all but a few until thetree is strong and vigorous. ‘Twentieth Century’ and ‘Shinseiki’ usuallyproduce without cross-pollination, especially in areas with mild, drysprings.

All others need a different variety nearby forcross-pollination. Most can be pollinated by ‘Bartlett’ or byany Asian pear except ‘Niitaka’. ‘Tsu Li’ and’Ya Li’ bloom earlier, so they must be planted together (orwith ‘Seiri’, a less common early bloomer) for either to bearwell. If you can grow apples, Asian pears should do well. In theextremely mild-winter areas of coastal Southern California and the lowdesert, only the three early bloomers just mentioned are reliable.

Inareas where spring frosts often damage the apple crop, Asian pear bloomwill suffer even more; choose a site with good air drainage and consultgrowers listed below about rootstock hardiness. A few trees are sold in containers all year, but most are soldbare-root in January and February. Tree supply is increasing, butit’s still a good idea to reserve one soon with your nurseryman.

You can also mail-order trees for delivery this winter. Californiasources include Fowler Nurseries, 525 Fowler Rd., Newcastle 95658 (freeprice list, catalog $2), and Pacific Tree Farms, 4301 Lynnwood Dr.,Chula Vista 92010 (catalog $1.

50). Two Washington sources are BuckleyNursery, 646 N. River Ave., Buckley 98321, and Raintree Nursery, 391Butts Rd., Morton 98356. In the kitchen For poaching, use firms pears; overripe ones, especially russets,tend to discolor as they cook. After cooking, boil down pan juices toconcentrate flavor. To bake in pies, compensate for the fruit’s high water contentby using about 50 percent more thickening than for regular pears (about4 to 4-1/2 tablespoons cornstarch for 8 cups sliced fruit).

Chicken andPear Salad with Mint A refreshing mint dressing drenches poached chicken breasts and rawAsian pear slices in this cool salad. Water 1 whole chicken breast (1lb.) split in half 1/2 cup rice vinegar (or white wine vinegar) 1-1/2tablespoons sugar (1/4 cup with wine vinegar) 3 tablespoons choppedfresh mint Lettuce leaves 2 medium-size (2-1/2- to 3-in. diameter) Asianpears, peeled if desired and thinly sliced crosswise through the coreFresh mint springs In a 3- to 4-quart pan, bring about 2 quarts water to boiling.

Addchicken, pushing into the water to cover completely. Cover pan andremove from heat; let stand until chicken is no longer pink when cut inthickest part, 16 to 18 minutes. Lift out and plunge chicken into icewater. When chicken is cool, lift out, then discard skin and bones.Cut breast diagonally into thin slices. Mix together vinegar, sugar,and chopped mint until sugar dissolves. Line 2 dinner plates withlettuce leaves; arrange pear slices and chicken on lettuce. Pour mintdressing over, then garnish with mint sprigs.

Serves 2. Prosciutto PearPlate Arrange crosswise slices of pear with thin sheets of Italianprosciutto or salami and drizzle with a shallot dressing. 2 large ormedium-size (3- to 3-1/2-in. diameter) Asian pears, peeled if desired 12thin slices prosciutto or dry salami Shallot dressing (recipe follows)Coarsely ground pepper Parsley sprigs Cut pears crosswise into thin slices. On 4 salad plates, arrange 3or 4 pears slices on one side, 3 prosciutto slices on the other. Spoonshallot dressing over pears, sprinkle with pepper, and garnish withparsley.

Makes 4 first-course servings. Shallot dressing. Stir together 1/4 cup salad oil, 1-1/2tablespoons rice vinegar (or white wine vinegar plus 1/2 teaspoonsugar), and 2 tablespoons minced shallots. Spiced Asian Pear Pickles Small Asian pears are the perfect size for pickling. These areflavored with cinnamon, orange peel, and Chinese star anise (availablein Oriental markets, or use anise seed). Serve with poultry or pork.24 small (2- to 2-1/2-in.

diameter) firm Asian pears 4-1/2 cups cidervinegar 7 cups sugar 4 cinnamon sticks, each 3 inches long 10 wholeallspice 2 star anise or 1/2 teaspoon anise seed 8 strips orange peel,thin orange part only, each about 4 inches long Peel pears, leaving whole with stems attached. In a 10- to12-quart pan, combine vinegar, sugar, cinnamon, allspice, anise, andorange peel. Bring to a boil. Add pears; cover and simmer until pearsare tender when pierced, 20 to 25 minutes. Seal in jars and process(directions follow). Or cool, cover, and chill; use or store up to 1month. Makes 4 quarts.

To process for canning, lift pears from boiling syrup and pack intoclean, hot, sterilized wide-mouthed quart canning jars (4 to 6 pears perjar). Ladle boiling syrup into each jar to within 1/2 inch of rim. Runa narrow spatula between food and jar to release air bubbles. Wipe jarrims clean. Cover with hot sterilized lids; screw on bands. Place jarson a rack in a canning or other deep kettle half-full of hot water.

Addmore hot water to cover jars by 1 to 2 inches. Bring water tosimmering, cover, process for 10 minutes. Lift out jars, set on atowel, and let cool. Test seal by pressing lid. If it stayd down, theseal is good. If it pops when pressed, store jars in refrigerator up to1 month. Poached Pears in Ginger–Lemon Syrup As these mild-flavored pears cook, they absorb the refreshingflavors of lemon and ginger.

1 lemon 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, cutinto julienne strips 1/2 cup sugar Water 6 medium-size (2-1/2- to 3-in.diameter) firm Asian pears, peeled with stems attached Lightly sweetenedwhipped cream (optional) With a vegetable peeler, pare yellow part only of peel from lemon.Cut peel into julienne strips to make 1 tablespoon. Ream enough lemonto make 1 tablespoon juice. In a 5- to 6-quart pan, combine lemon peel, lemon juice, ginger,sugar, and 3 cups water. Bring to a boil. Add pears and more water, ifneeded, to cover them. Simmer, covered, until pears are tender whenpierced, about 30 minutes.

Put pears in 6 shallow rimmed dishes or shallow bowls. On highheat, boil syrup, uncovered, until reduced to 1/2 cup, about 40 minutes.Pour syrup over pears. Cool, cover, and chill until cold, or up to 2days. If desired, spoon whipped cream over individual servings.

Serves6.

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