Tastes of Autumn: The Pear and the Pumpkin - Part 1
As summer winds down, sharp-eyed travelers in Japan will notice small orchards full of short, broad topped trees supported by wires and protected with mesh nets. These are pear trees and they produce one of autumn’s tastiest treats, nashi.
Nashi are large, golden yellow fruits that feel like an apple and taste like a pear. They are sweet, crisp, and jucier than either an apple or a pear.
With that in mind, here are a few things about the Japanese pear you might not know:
In Japan, nashi are usually served raw and peeled as a side dish or as a dessert. (Although, should you prefer not to, there is no need to peel them as the skin is edible and tasty.) They are generally considered too juicy for pies but can sometimes be found topping a baked tart. They pair well with almond slivers or a light (very light) sprinkling of salt.
In some sauce and marinade recipes, nashi or nashi juice can be used as a sugar substitute.
When shopping, you should look for pears that are firm and dark in color. These pears are ripe and ready to eat. Once purchased, nashi keep for a long time. If kept cool and dry (as in a refrigerated crisper) they can last for months. However, even left on the kitchen counter, they will remain ready to eat for a week or two.
In season (August through October, depending on the region) nashi are cheap and easy to come by. Out of season, the price can skyrocket to as much as ¥1,000 for a single fruit. Because they bruise easily, most supermarkets sell nashi wrapped in spongy netting and because of their size, often individually.
Nashi are very popular as gifts. Again, because of their size, but also because they are seen as a symbol of the seasons. In fact, both the word ‘nashi’ and the phrase ‘nashi no hana’ (pear flower) can be used as seasonal words in haiku poetry. Relatedly, in Japan’s Edo period, pear trees were planted in corners as a way to repel misfortune.
High in vitamin C and low in calories (approximately 50 to 120 depending on size), nashi are a very healthy fruit. They are also high in fiber and fat free.
Japanese pears are also known as Asian pears, Korean pears, Chinese pears, and Taiwanese pears. Besides these regionally derived names, they can be found under the names apple pear (because of its size and texture) and sand pear (because of its rough skin). But don’t let the wealth of names fool you, all these fruits, no matter the name, are classified as pyrus pyrifolia.
Nashi are mentioned in both Chinese and Japanese historical documents dating back to the seventh century. Asian immigrants to California brought pear seeds with them in the 1850s. Now, Asian pears are grown all over the world.
In Japan, the pears are primarily grown in the central prefectures, but can be found almost everywhere throughout the islands. One city, Funabashi City in Chiba Prefecture, even has an unofficial ‘pear fairy’ mascot known as Funassyi!
Now that you know all there is to know about the delicious Japanese pear, let’s take a look at it’s vegetable counterpart, kabocha!