With their crisp, juicy texture, Asian pears must be some of the most refreshing fruits on earth. They're a fitting pome to bridge the transition from summer to fall, when we haven't completely let go of warm days but are ready to embrace the next season's flavors. Depending on where you live, the harvest season for Asian pears may begin as early as July and last until winter. In many places, they reach their peak in September and October.
Crunchier and grittier than their European cousins, Asian pears are also known as apple pears, sand pears, and Chinese, Japanese, Korean, or Nashi pears. The round, greenish-yellow Nijisseiki or 20th Century variety is the most common in US markets and often generically labeled "Asian pear." However, thousands of other varieties of Asian pears exist, displaying all manner of shapes (round, flat, oval, pear), colors (yellow, green, bronze), and skin textures (smooth, speckled, russeted). Differences in juiciness and flavor range from subtle to striking. Some are more sweet and floral while others are more lemony or grassy.
Unlike European pears, Asian pears are picked when ripe and ready to eat when purchased. They keep very well in the refrigerator – up to as long as three months. To take advantage of their cool crispness, use Asian pears in fresh salads and relishes. They're also wonderful poached with star anise. Although their texture and high water content makes them less ideal for baking, we've seen some recipes for cakes and crisps that we may have to try.
Below are just a few of the many Asian pear varieties.
Farmers' Market Report: Pears
(Images: Emily Ho)