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Asian Pear

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Fruits, Desserts, and Other Sweet Foods

Summer Volume: 2008 Issue: 15(2) page(s): 5 and 33


Nashi or Asian pears grow on medium-size trees. Botanically known as Pyrus pyrifolia or Pyrus ussuriensis, these fruits are often mistaken for crisp large hard apples, but apples they are not. Asian pears have been cultivated in China for at least four thousand years; and they have other names besides that of Asian pear. The other monikers include the Japanese pear, Korean pear, sand pear, and apple-pear.

As do many fruit trees, Asian pears need another cultivar nearby to produce fruit: however, different than almost all other pears, these pears are best when left to ripen on the tree. Almost all other pears should be picked when unripe and ripened after that. Like almost all apples and pears, after cutting them they will stay best if in an acid such as lemon juice tossed with them to prevent discoloration, technically called oxidation.

The skin of the Asian peas is most commonly brown, but there are varieties such as the '20th Century' which has a pale green skin, and other varieties tinged with yellow. Asian pears can be eaten raw and they can be cooked. Some, when cooked, are cut horizontally into rings, a top slice used to top a stew or float on a soup. Asian pears are great raw and wonderful when cooked with chicken, duck, rabbit, or any red meat. They are also great stuffed and stewed with other sweets, with or without herbs added.

One well-known dish using the Asian pear is from the Yunnan province and associated with a military general, his name, Li Dingguo (1621 - 1662). He was the military man who helped a Ming emperor escape from an invading Manchu army when he, the emperor, and the army were being attacked by Qing troops. After he escaped, General Li fled to Kunming. There a kind lady took him in and prepared a chicken dish for him, and he adored it. Those native to Kunming now consider this dish their very own.

There are ball-shaped Asian pears known as Autumn pears, in Chinese called qui zi li. They are juicy with some astringency, crisp, large, and fragrant. There are other varieties, many called ye li, that are wild and grow on taller trees; but these are rarely found in the marketplace.

Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners (TCM) say Asian pears are cool in nature and a great help to those suffering from diarrhea. They prescribe them for this and to reduce coughs caused by wind-wetness and coughs considered chronic. They also prescribe the Asian pear for those with painful stomach swelling and they prescribe it for those with chest pain due to pressure. Some people with these conditions are told to make an Asian pear poultice and apply it to their chests. That same poultice is recommended for ulcerated legs, also for relief from advanced cases of athletes foot.

In addition, TCM medical personnel recommend this poultice for those bitten by horses, cows, and other large four-legged farm animals. However, they tell those folk to make a juice and apply that to their wound. They say it prevents infection and stops pain for a short time. As the pain relief does not last, they advise multiple applications every day until there is healing. Eating Asian pears, these same practitioners say, is good for stimulating saliva, quenching thirst, nourishing the lungs, and clearing 'heat' and to expel what they call 'dryness.'

While Chinese consider apples light, durable, long lived, and popular, they believe Asian pears dense, fragile, short-lived, and privileged. These same TCM doctors recommend that all Asian pears be shared. Therefore, a large family typically shares only one of these fruits at dinner or during the day.

There are many other tales, ancient and modern, about Asian pears. The oldest one we ever heard about was said to be circa thousands of years old from 5000 BCE. The story is that a Chinese diplomat simply called 'Feng,' gave up his job to focus on cultivating this fantastic fruit. For many hundreds of years, the Royal Horticultural Society of London imported these fruits.

The Asian pear is resistant to blight and planted near many new homes in the United States and Europe. In the 1850's, Chinese immigrants introduced them to California, and others brought them to New Zealand, Australia, Chile, Argentina, and France. Hence, the trees are popular worldwide, but the fruits hardly eaten outside of Asian communities. Why, we know not.

Below are some recipes using Asian pears. Do try some raw and try others cooked. They are delicious both ways. Also try the Asian Pear recipe in the Letters to the Editor; it can be located by looking it up there or by its title which is Stuffed Pear with Arbutus.
Kunming Chicken with Asian Pear
Ingredients:
1/2 pound chicken breast meat, cut into one-inch cubes
1 egg, beaten
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 Asian pear, peeled, cored, and cut into one-inch cubes
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 scallions, sliced thinly
3 slices fresh ginger, peeled and cut into slivers
1/8 pound Yunnan or Smithfield ham, sliced thin, then cut into half-inch pieces
Preparation:
1. Mix chicken cubes, beaten egg, cornstarch, and salt, and let it rest for fifteen minutes, then stir once more and put this mixture into a strainer to drain the excess liquid. Mix pear cubes with lemon juice and set aside, Drain this just before frying them.
2. Heat wok, add the oil, and fry the coated chicken breast cubes for up to two minutes, until crisp and half-cooked. Then, add the pear cubes and stir-fry another half-minute before removing everything from wok and setting this aside in a strainer over a bowl.
3. Reheat wok, but do not wash it out, and fry half the scallions and all the ginger for half a minute, then add the ham and return the chicken-pear mixture to the wok, as well. Remove everything to a pre-heated serving bowl, sprinkle the rest of the scallions on top, and serve.

Quail, Asian Pear, and Cashews
Ingredients:
2 quail, boned, the skin (optional) and meat shredded
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 Asian pear
1 teaspoon lemon juice mixed with one teaspoon orange or tangerine juice
1/4 red pepper, seeded and shredded
1/4 green pepper, seeded and shredded
2 Tablespoons cashew nut halves
1 scallion, slivered
2 slices fresh ginger, peeled and slivered
2 Tablespoons cornstarch or potato starch
Preparation:
1. Mix shredded quail meat and skin with salt and cornstarch, and set aside for fifteen minutes.
2. Peel and shred pear, and mix with the juices selected.
3. Heat wok, add peppers, and stir fry for one minute, then add quail meat and continue to stir fry for another two minutes.
4. Next add cashew nuts and the scallion and ginger slivers, and stir-fry another minute.
5. Mix cornstarch or potato starch with one tablespoon cold water, stir well, pour into the wok and boil and stir for one minute until thick, then serve.

Asian Pear with Chuan bei
Ingredients:
1 Tablespoon chuan bei or goji berries
2 Asian pears
2 Tablespoons crushed rock sugar
Preparation:
1. Crush chuan bei or cut goji berries in half.
2. Cut top off each pear, and core, but not all the way, leave some pear at bottom to hold liquid.
3. Put chuan bei or goji berry pieces and the rock sugar into the pear cavities, and put each pear into as heat-proof bowl.
4. Put the bowls of pears in a steamer basket over simmering water and steam for one hour. Prepare a small plate with a paper napkin, and remove each bowl on to each an individual plate and serve.

Asian Pear Cakes
Ingredients:
1 Asian pear, peeled and cored
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup sweet potato or potato flour
3 Tablespoons red bean paste
2 cups vegetable oil
6 Tablespoons sugar
6 goji berries
Preparation:
1. Chop pear and mix with beaten egg and the flour. Divide this pear dough into six parts.
2. Divide bean paste into six parts. Wrap each part with the pear dough and flatten it into a cake shape.
3. Heat oil in a wok or pot and deep fry half the cakes until golden, then remove and drain on paper towels, and repeat with the other half of the pear cakes. Next, put the fried pear cakes in a single layer into a heat-proof bowl.
4. Mix sugar with one-quarter cup of boiling water, and pour this over the pear cakes. Put one goji berry in the center of each pear cake. Steam them over boiling water for six minutes, remove, and serve.

                                                                                                                                                       
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