Friday, December 2, 2016

What the heck is that? Apple pear

Apple pears: the first step in a project to breed interesting hybrids of popular fruit? A project that could include the easy-peel, not-too-acidic banana pineapple (not to be confused with banana potatoes ) and one-step-ratatouille tomato eggplant?

The truth is a bit less exciting.

Apple pears are a type of pear, as some of the fruit's other names, Asian pear (and its geographic subsets, Chinese pear, Korean pear, Taiwanese pear, Japanese pear, etc.) and nashi (Japanese for "pear") indicate. Apple pears have been enjoyed in Asia for thousands of years and in California since the Gold Rush days, when Chinese immigrant miners planted trees. 

The "apple" part of "apple pear" refers to the fruit's appearance and texture - round and crisp like an apple. In other ways, the apple pear definitely tows the pear line. Apple pears ripen on the tree, not the kitchen counter. They are sweet, with a flavor in the pear family. Apple pears' skins can range from golden yellow to greenish yellow to paper bag brown, with a corresponding texture than can range from delicate to a bosc pear level of coarseness.

Here you can see the outward similarity of the two apple pears to the apple on the left. The apple pears' grainy texture, not quite revealed in the photo, differs from the apple's. Unlike a regular pear, the seed pod is dead center, rather than located in the lower portion of the fruit. 

The more delicate apple pears sometimes earn dog in a winter vest protective gear. 
th -- they're both members of the rose family, or pomes -- but the "apple pear," or Asian pear, blurs the line between the two fruits. Their flavor packs the unmistakeable honeyed sweetness of a pear, but Asian pears have the crisp texture, size and roundness of a superlative eating apple. To scientists they're unquestionably pears, but they're a distinctive and quirky branch of the family. You can use them in tarts, pies and other baked confections, but aficionados recommend eating them out of hand.

Distinctive Characteristics

  • Apple pears differ significantly from the familiar Eurasian varieties that fill your grocer's produce section. Ordinary pears don't ripen on the tree, but must be harvested while still hard and encouraged to ripen in storage. Asian pears, like apples, can be left on the tree and picked while ripe. Conventional pears have textures ranging from meltingly soft to grainy and sand-like, but always relatively dense. Apple pears have a distinctively crisp texture, apple-like but even lighter and juicier than most apples.

Pick a Good One

  • Asian pears are packaged carefully to minimize bruising, their major flaw from the retailer's perspective. Avoid fruit with visible bruising or other damage. Apple pears range from pale yellow to russet to green in color, but this is a question of cultivar rather than ripeness. Rather than color, use your nose to judge the ripest fruit. The best-tasting pears have the sweetest fragrance.

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But they are surprisingly hardy in other important ways: they don't turn brown or mealy when exposed to air, making them a good choice for salads and cheese platters, and their shelf life is noticeably longer than that of either apples or regular pears.                                                                                                          
My friend Thom sent me a picture from a Japanese supermarket in Hong Kong of this gift box of giant apple pears grown in a greenhouse in Japan. 

The price (using the conversion of Hong Kong dollars to U.S. dollars at the time of the picture) is over $22 per apple pear. Yes, $22 each! A box of six makes a nice gift for the right person. 

How can you do justice to a fruit this expensive? Chomping down wouldn't seem right. Perhaps you could only cut it thinly and curate on a platter with some equally fancy tidbit.

Fortunately, when I buy apple pears, whether at the Union Square Greenmarket, a fruit stand or in Chinatown, I don't have such constraints. At $1 each, and sometimes half that cost, apple pears are free to be simply enjoyed.

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