The crunch pears Essay

A new fruit is gaining popularity in Western produce markets and home
gardens. It’s the Asian pear, crisp like an apple, mellow and
bursting with juice like a pear, but with a breaking texture and a fresh
flavor distinctly its own.

Almost as appealing as the clean, crunchy taste is the ease of
handling the fruit. There’s no mystique about when to pick or how
to ripen: Asian pears are ready to eat when you pick them off the tree
or buy them in the market. The fruit is virtually indesructible. You
can store it more than a week at room temperature, for three months or
more in the refrigerator. Unlike most pers, it can go into a
child’s lunch bag and still be edible by noon. Are they as good as
regular pears?

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“Better!” voted tasters who felt lukewarm to negative
about other pears. “They’re light and refreshing, less
gritty, and not so cloyingly sweet.”

Loyal fans of European pears disagree: “A pleasant change, but
no match for the ‘Bartlett’.” Or, more strongly:
“With a few exceptions, watery and insipid; there’s no

Only a taste can help you decide which camp you belong in. Now is
the prime time for sampling. California crops come ripe off the trees
from late July into early October; Oregon and Washington fruits are
about a month behind.

Here we tell where to buy them, differences in varieties, and ways
to eat them. For those who get hooked, we also give information on
growing them. You may find them in your supermarket

Some large chains expect to offer Asian pears this year. Specialty
grocers usually have one or two kinds in stock, or can special-order
them 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 individually
wrapped gems to battered russets that taste like jicama. Appearance can
be deceiving–ugly, unnamed fruits may taste ambrosial.

You may also find some at roadside stands in areas where most are
grown: in the Sierra foothills around Loomis and Newcastle; around
Lindsay 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 pear
is to peel thinly, slice in slim, crosswise pieces, and munch off the
flesh around the core. Besides the flower-like look of the slices, this
is a practical way to eat every morsel except the small, gritty core.

Some Orientals like to add a dash of salt; our tasters enjoyed a
squeeze of lime. Almost everyone likes the fruit best raw.

But some tasters who found them too bland when eaten fresh liked
them cooked. Cooking can enhance their mild flavor while retaining
their crisp texture. Suggestions for ways to serve them cooked or raw
follow on page 75. Some varietal differences

With one exception, most Westerners like round, green- to
yellow-skinned kinds best, both in our taste tests and those by UC
Davis. These varieties tend to be smoother and juicier, with fruity
flavor. Use skin color in the photograph on page 74 to help you
evaluate ripeness: green-skinned kinds are prime for eating or storage
when they turn the yellow-green color of ‘Ya Li’. Greener
fruits will be tarter; yellow ones sweeter, but they won’t keep as

These three rank almost equally:

‘Twentieth Century’, also called ‘Nijisseiki’
or ‘Apple Pear’, is the most popular and widely sold, both as
fruit and as trees. Smooth, fruity, and slightly tart, it has a thin,
relatively tender skin.

‘Shinseiki’ looks and tastes similar but is a little
tarter. It ripens earliest.

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

The pear-shaped Chinese varieties, ‘Ya Li’ and ‘Tsu
Li’, were too mild to be favorites raw but equalled those above
when cooked.

Russets elicit strongly divided opinions, partly because it’s
harder to tell when they’re ripe.

For best eating and storage, look for russets teh golden-brown
shade of ‘Hosui’. Earlier, when greenish, dusty brown, or
mottled like ‘Niitaka’, they are crisp and juicy but bland and
vegetable-like. Tree-ripened with an orange glow, they taste sweeter
but won’t keep as long. Full ripening also accentuates any
aromatic flavor–particularly in ‘Chojuro’. This beautiful
fruit is one of the most widely sold, but its distinctive flavor is the
most 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 and
firm, fine texture even after prolonged storage made the skin crinkle.
Fresh, or peeled and poached, it was rated by all as one of the tastiest
and most beautiful. Since it’s new, both trees and fruit are in
short supply. If you want to grow your own

Covered with white flowers in spring and loaded with green to
golden fruit in summer, Asian pear trees are quite handsome. In cold
climates, their thick canopy of leaves turns bright red in fall; in
mild-winter areas, leaves turn yellow.

Asian pears bear fruit in about half as many years as it takes
European varieties. You should have a substantial crop in three to four
years. Some may fruit the first year–pinch off all but a few until the
tree is strong and vigorous.

‘Twentieth Century’ and ‘Shinseiki’ usually
produce without cross-pollination, especially in areas with mild, dry
springs. All others need a different variety nearby for
cross-pollination. Most can be pollinated by ‘Bartlett’ or by
any Asian pear except ‘Niitaka’. ‘Tsu Li’ and
‘Ya Li’ bloom earlier, so they must be planted together (or
with ‘Seiri’, a less common early bloomer) for either to bear

If you can grow apples, Asian pears should do well. In the
extremely mild-winter areas of coastal Southern California and the low
desert, only the three early bloomers just mentioned are reliable. In
areas where spring frosts often damage the apple crop, Asian pear bloom
will suffer even more; choose a site with good air drainage and consult
growers listed below about rootstock hardiness.

A few trees are sold in containers all year, but most are sold
bare-root in January and February. Tree supply is increasing, but
it’s still a good idea to reserve one soon with your nurseryman.

You can also mail-order trees for delivery this winter. California
sources include Fowler Nurseries, 525 Fowler Rd., Newcastle 95658 (free
price list, catalog $2), and Pacific Tree Farms, 4301 Lynnwood Dr.,
Chula Vista 92010 (catalog $1.50). Two Washington sources are Buckley
Nursery, 646 N. River Ave., Buckley 98321, and Raintree Nursery, 391
Butts 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 to
concentrate flavor.

To bake in pies, compensate for the fruit’s high water content
by using about 50 percent more thickening than for regular pears (about
4 to 4-1/2 tablespoons cornstarch for 8 cups sliced fruit). Chicken and
Pear Salad with Mint

A refreshing mint dressing drenches poached chicken breasts and raw
Asian pear slices in this cool salad. Water 1 whole chicken breast (1
lb.) split in half 1/2 cup rice vinegar (or white wine vinegar) 1-1/2
tablespoons sugar (1/4 cup with wine vinegar) 3 tablespoons chopped
fresh mint Lettuce leaves 2 medium-size (2-1/2- to 3-in. diameter) Asian
pears, peeled if desired and thinly sliced crosswise through the core
Fresh mint springs

In a 3- to 4-quart pan, bring about 2 quarts water to boiling. Add
chicken, pushing into the water to cover completely. Cover pan and
remove from heat; let stand until chicken is no longer pink when cut in
thickest part, 16 to 18 minutes. Lift out and plunge chicken into ice
water. 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 with
lettuce leaves; arrange pear slices and chicken on lettuce. Pour mint
dressing over, then garnish with mint sprigs. Serves 2. Prosciutto Pear

Arrange crosswise slices of pear with thin sheets of Italian
prosciutto or salami and drizzle with a shallot dressing. 2 large or
medium-size (3- to 3-1/2-in. diameter) Asian pears, peeled if desired 12
thin 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 3
or 4 pears slices on one side, 3 prosciutto slices on the other. Spoon
shallot dressing over pears, sprinkle with pepper, and garnish with
parsley. Makes 4 first-course servings.

Shallot dressing. Stir together 1/4 cup salad oil, 1-1/2
tablespoons rice vinegar (or white wine vinegar plus 1/2 teaspoon
sugar), and 2 tablespoons minced shallots. Spiced Asian Pear Pickles

Small Asian pears are the perfect size for pickling. These are
flavored with cinnamon, orange peel, and Chinese star anise (available
in 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 cider
vinegar 7 cups sugar 4 cinnamon sticks, each 3 inches long 10 whole
allspice 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- to
12-quart pan, combine vinegar, sugar, cinnamon, allspice, anise, and
orange peel. Bring to a boil. Add pears; cover and simmer until pears
are tender when pierced, 20 to 25 minutes. Seal in jars and process
(directions follow). Or cool, cover, and chill; use or store up to 1
month. Makes 4 quarts.

To process for canning, lift pears from boiling syrup and pack into
clean, hot, sterilized wide-mouthed quart canning jars (4 to 6 pears per
jar). Ladle boiling syrup into each jar to within 1/2 inch of rim. Run
a narrow spatula between food and jar to release air bubbles. Wipe jar
rims clean. Cover with hot sterilized lids; screw on bands. Place jars
on a rack in a canning or other deep kettle half-full of hot water. Add
more hot water to cover jars by 1 to 2 inches. Bring water to
simmering, cover, process for 10 minutes. Lift out jars, set on a
towel, and let cool. Test seal by pressing lid. If it stayd down, the
seal is good. If it pops when pressed, store jars in refrigerator up to
1 month. Poached Pears in Ginger–Lemon Syrup

As these mild-flavored pears cook, they absorb the refreshing
flavors of lemon and ginger. 1 lemon 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, cut
into 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 sweetened
whipped 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 lemon
to 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, if
needed, to cover them. Simmer, covered, until pears are tender when
pierced, about 30 minutes.

Put pears in 6 shallow rimmed dishes or shallow bowls. On high
heat, 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 2
days. If desired, spoon whipped cream over individual servings. Serves


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