Asian Pears... so many Asian Pears
Years ago, we planted a sturdy pair of Nashi Pear trees (nashis are also known as Asian Pears, and as Pyrus pyrifolia in Latin.) Dwarf fruit trees fit quite neatly on this little city lot in our old neighborhood. The trees sit in full sun on a southwest hilltop in Seattle’s moderate, moist climate. We planted a pair because Asian Pears don’t self-pollinate — they need each other, as well as the bees. To bear well, they need to grow close together. A pair of pears.
Each fall, with anticipation (and a little dread) we ask ourselves, “How will the season be?”
This year, with its wet spring and long hot summer, brought a bumper crop. The pears grew in clusters like grapes, from the lowest branches to the ones we can’t reach. They swelled to fill your hand, their green skin turned the gold of Greek myths, they ripened and fell.
We began to gather, and called on our friend and handyman Roger Lorenzen, of anothervinemess.com, to bring his tall ladders. The bags and boxes filled. Birds and squirrels, bugs and flies devoured the bounty, as well. Friends and neighbors were pressed to take some. The kitchen air is filled with cinnamon.
Still, this is a lot of fruit. There is no “Off” switch to the abundance. This is not a virtual harvest. Baking and canning become daily routine. Fallen pears, turning soft and brown as you struggle to keep up with the harvest, need to be shoveled into the compost bin. Wasps cruised the bruised fruit, seeking the fermenting syrup. A friend reminded me that I could call Dane Garfield Wilson, who runs Seattle Food Not Bombs, http://foodnotbombs.net/new_site/ a nonprofit whose local chapters serve vegetarian meals and donate food to people in need. So I bagged by the half-dozen for pie-size giveaways.
Asian Pears bake beautifully, holding their shape but turning velvety soft. They don’t make good applesauce, separating into grainy sludge and water. But tarts and pies and muffins and scones, all manner of baked goods work beautifully. Hand-pies are my latest obsession.
One perfect pear, sliced thin, with an Oregon bleu and some hazelnuts makes a simple, elegant, Northwest snack.
Nashis make terrific chutney, too. This pickle of fruit, sugar, hot pepper, and vinegar, deliciously accents meat, fish, and curries. It’s also great spooned onto crostini smeared with chèvre. I make it because it uses a lot of fruit, it’s relatively simple to vary to your taste, and it makes a lovely holiday gift.
The Joy of Cooking says use 5 cups of fruit to one lemon, I triple the recipe and make as many batches as I have the patience for. I don’t use raisins and I chop up limes instead of lemons. Bulk crystallized ginger at the Co-op is a better deal than the little jars in the supermarket. I put up some Cranberry Pickled Pears for Thanksgiving; they turn a lovely color.
The two little trees in our small yard, probably bore 100 boxes of fruit this year. Next year I will get over to the neighbor who has Italian plum trees, with the same abundant yield. Variety is the spice of life, at fruit-picking time.