The crunch pears.
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?
"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 comparison."
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 long.
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 well.
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 Plate
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 6.
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|Date:||Sep 1, 1984|
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