Asian pear combine the familiar flavor and juiciness of a ripe pear with the crisp crunch of a firm apple, but remain mysterious to most people. The fruit ’s many varieties differ greatly in color, shape and taste; its variant names - apple pear, salad pear and nashi
Asian pears are botanically true pears (not, as some suppose, apple-pear hybrids) from three species indigenous to China. The Chinese have cultivated crunchy pears for over 2,000 years. They prize certain varieties, such as the â€œphoenix roostâ€ pear. In the 13th century, Marco Polo related seeing fragrant, white-fleshed pears weighing up to 10 pounds. Some soft-fleshed European pears are grown in the Far East, but they have never become popular.
Chinese miners brought Asian pears to California during the Gold Rush but, for over a century, they were few commercial plantings. In the 1980’s, as a new wave of Asian immigrants arrived, interest in exotic fruits increased and cultivation multiplied tenfold.
Over 1,000 varieties of Asian pears exist, of which two dozen are cultivated commercially in the United States. They fall into three main categories. Of the round, light-skinned pears, the best-known is the Nijisseiki, the 20th Century pear, which originated in Japan in 1898, and was largely responsible for the popularity of pears there. Its tender, greenish-yellow skin invited comparison with â€œKyoto beauties,â€ maidens celebrated for their pale complexions. With crisp, juicy flesh, and very little grittiness, the Nijisseiki was the leading variety in America for many years. The Shinseiki or New Century is similar, with yellower skin and a bit less flavorthough growing conditions and ripeness affect quality as much as the variety.
Another family of round pears, with russet skin (which may be tan, brown or even orangish), are generally sweeter and more perfumed than the milder, light-skinned sort. Russet skin can be tough, but the best varieties, such as Hosui and Kosui, have rich full flavor.
The Chinese especially appreciate the third group, light green to yellow in color and shaped like European pears. The Ya Li or Duckbill Pear, named for its pointy top, is very crisp, with a flavor that’s milder than that of other varieties. Another old Chinese pear, the Tsu Li, has a blocky shape and prominent spots, and improves in flavor with storage. Some specimens are giganticup to four pounds.
Chinese typically eat their pears chilled, peeled, cored and sectioned, but many of the younger generation eat pears whole, with the skin.
As with many fruits, most Chinese people believe that pears have medicinal properties. Steamed pears is used in winter to soothe the throat.
The Chinese word for pear, li, is similar to that for â€œprosperity.â€Some Chinese families often kept a lucky pear at the table for Chinese New Year. But li also recalls the word for â€œseparation,â€ so as a girl she would never divide a pear with a friend, lest they part forever.
Koreans prefer large, high-flavored russet pears, such as the Shinko. They float thin slices on a bowl of cold noodle soup for a favorite summertime meal. Koreans also make Beef Tartare with a quail egg, pine nuts and julienned Asian pear.
Although Asian pears are available year-round from storage, freshly picked fruit is most succulent. The California harvest starts in mid-July, and the New Jersey crop in late August; both finish in October. Many varieties store relatively well, and are available into mid-winter. A few expensive imports from Japan, Taiwan and Korea show up occasionally. Major shipments from Chile and New Zealand arrive in February and March; they are much improved in quality in recent years.
In shopping for light-colored varieties, look for skin that is more yellow than green, and has a translucent appearance. Most russet pears are ripe when they're golden brown, though some will retain a greenish tinge. Ripe Asian pears should be firm, but may reveal a very slight softening of the flesh, and a sweet aroma. Asian pears may feel like rocks, but they bruise easily, and are often wrapped in soft plastic protectors. Surface blemishes do not impair taste, but avoid fruit with soft spots. Though Orientals claim large pears are juicier and sweeter, medium-size fruit is cheaper and just as delicious.
When you get them home, Asian pears are ready to eat, and don't require further ripening, as European pears do. They last at room temperature for a week, and keep for months in a paper bag in the refrigerator. Asian pears are most refreshing when chilled, and their crispness is perfect for fruit salads. They can also be boiled or poached like regular pears, though they take longer to cook.
Asian pear (Pyrus pyrifolia) a kind of fruit with crisp, juicy white flesh. The skin of the Asian pears vary from pale yellow to brown and are often known by their varietal name, nijisseiki (20th century) and Ya Li, being two popular Asian pear varieties.
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